It eats trees for lunch, and it's coming to a forest near you.
Technology that converts wood chips into electricity was unveiled Thursday at North Park High School in Walden.
The "BioMax 15" looks like a random assortment of piping and barrels on wheels, but appearances are deceiving.
The modular biopower system is poised to become the latest strategy for reducing the dangerous buildup of underbrush and timber near adjacent communities and lands. The technology adds value to otherwise valueless wood, brush and other natural debris removed from the forest floor.
Walden is one of seven places in the country selected to host the pilot project. Trial runs also are slated for sites in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Alaska and Massachusetts.
Thursday's open house gave representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and its Forest Products Lab, the high school and the Community Power Foundation a chance to show off the system.
The system went on line last week, said Chuck Oliver, parks district ranger for the Routt National Forest.
It took a few days to work out the kinks, but the BioMax 15 was working like a well-oiled machine by Thursday.
"It's running pretty smoothly," Oliver said.
Electricity generated from thinnings and debris on the forest floor powers a greenhouse at North Park High School. The BioMax 15 uses advanced downdraft gasification technology to convert the energy in wood residues to a clean, gaseous fuel suitable for use by a variety of generators, including automotive and industrial engines.
Different models can produce from 5 to 15 kilowatts of electricity and up to 50 kilowatts of useful heat.
Walden's system is not large enough to power the entire high school, but it has the potential to power other public facilities, such as the swimming pool, in the future, Oliver said.
A Walden logger who works outside of Denver donated the chips powering the technology. Forest refuse from the immediate area will power the system once those thinnings are consumed.
The BioMax 15 benefits forests and people. The technology disposes of hazardous vegetation that poses a risk to homes and overall forest health. It's expensive to remove thinned wood products from the forest floor, but the technology adds value to useless forest byproducts.
Rural communities such as Walden stand to gain when a new, environmentally friendly industry moves to town.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said in a teleconference with Colorado news agencies last week that sites such as Walden would serve as testing grounds for the technology.
These demo sites will help the Forest Service evaluate the BioMax 15's ability to turn wood chips into an alternate fuel source that costs less, he said.
"We're studying to see how much they are going to save," Bosworth said.
Legislation proposed by Congressman Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, would provide $25 million to help subsidize the cost of bringing biomass technology to other Colorado communities. Each community can qualify for $200,000, $100,000 for setting up the infrastructure and $100,000 toward the cost of transporting biomass materials to the conversion center.
"It's to kick-start the biomass industry," McInnis' press secretary, Blair Jones, said.
Forest Service officials in Steamboat Springs are excited about the possibility.
People in Walden are happy their town was chosen as one of the first to use it.
"It's been a long time in coming," Oliver said.
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