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The Boston Globe


Joan wickersham

How to boil water — and heat a college campus

A lesson in biomass, up close

‘Biomass” is a term that floats through newspaper stories and earnest cocktail party conversations and indignant online debates. But how many of us have had the chance to see what it actually is and how it works? When I noticed the words “Biomass Maintenance Building” on the campus map of Bennington College, where I was teaching this month, I couldn’t resist checking it out.

It was January, it was Vermont, it was cold. I walked, shivering, down the hill to a modest-looking wood-and-metal building. The first thing I saw was a big pile of wood chips in the driveway. The first thing I heard from operations manager Todd Siclari was that those wood chips — the biomass — provide 85 percent of the heat for Bennington’s campus.

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