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      NMU's new electrical source

      Northern Michigan University continues its efforts to go green. The university's new biomass unit at the Ripley Heating Plant will soon be working full time to help lower utility costs.

      NMU's new biomass unit will produce 15 to 18 percent of the school's electricity. Its fuel source: biodegradable wood chips from local suppliers.

      "It's kind of like when you go to the farmers market and buy local produce; we're taking it quite a few notches higher," said Plant Manager, Gisele Duehring.

      Currently they bring in about four truckloads of wood chips a day. That's 35 to 40 tons apiece, totaling about 40,000 tons a year. By winter, they'll be bringing in six to seven truckloads.

      The wood chips are sorted, taken to the firebox for combustion which heats water and produces steam that powers turbines to create electricity used for heating and cooling campus, among other things. The process creates large amounts of ash, which is used as a soil enhancer for agriculture.

      It's part of a greater effort to go green on campus. NMU has also invested in more efficient lighting and water consumption.

      "This is all about keeping cost down for students...The more we can do to save energy, the less annual operating costs we can pass on to students," said Art Gischia, Senior Associate Vice President for Administration.

      The $16.4 million biomass unit saves about $1.5 million a year.

      "If we need to go ahead and expand in the future, then we'd be happy to and have additional electrical generation. We're certainly open to that," Duehring said.

      So far, the biomass unit has been working successfully since it was completed in June but will not be in use full time until it passes a few more inspections.