An Analysis of a Biomass-Fueled Combined Heat and Power Plant for a Colorado Homeowners Association

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I evaluated available technologies and conflicting social, environmental and economic objectives important to a Colorado homeowners association (“the Ranch”) to determine if a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, fueled by woody biomass available on the Ranch, is worth pursuing at this time. The conflicting objectives were to maximize the economics of the CHP plant, minimize the aesthetic impacts of a power plant, minimize the impacts of traffic associated with hauling the biomass from the field to the power plant facility, and maximize the environmental objectives of wildfire risk reduction and carbon dioxide emissions reductions. I reviewed the literature for biomass-fueled CHP technologies that are reported to be commercially available at a scale of less than 35 kilowatts of electricity (limited by available biomass fuel). I performed an economic analysis on three of these technologies, comparing them to the status quo of continuing to purchase energy at retail prices over a 25 year time horizon. Using multiattribute utility analysis, I quantified the conflicting objectives important to the Ranch owners when comparing the single technology that had a positive payback against the status quo, assuming the technology would perform as predicted by the manufacturer. Because the technology is unproven, I then analyzed the effects of uncertainty about the longevity and annual operating capacity on the viability of using such a power facility using multiattribute utility analysis under uncertainty. My results indicated there is currently no basis to suggest pursuing a small scale biomass-fueled CHP plant on the Ranch. The placement of a CHP plant at the Ranch headquarters was too much of an aesthetic concern and the plant technology proved too unreliable to permit environmental benefits to outweigh these negative factors. Development of small scale biomass-fueled combined heat and power technology, so that it is reliable and affordable, will be crucial in the future for these technologies to play a role as an alternative energy strategy for the Ranch.





Thomas, Mikel T. (2011). An Analysis of a Biomass-Fueled Combined Heat and Power Plant for a Colorado Homeowners Association. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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