The Industrial and Commercial Boiler Revolution

One of the most important fuel shifts across the world is taking place largely hidden in hospitals, schools and other industries – the massive change among industrial and commercial boilers and the fuel they burn. These huge devices supply power – often fueled by oil – to health centers, school districts, distribution hubs and any large grouping of buildings needing centralized heating and power supplies.

The shift is from aging, decrepit oil burning boilers to more modern, less contaminating machines that burn natural gas or what’s known as biomass – dead trees, branches and tree stumps, yard clippings, wood chips and even municipal solid waste. A new generation of fuel-saving, emission-reducing technology that works with these boilers is also coming online.

The Worldwide Shift Away From Coal

The shift is taking place largely below the surface of modern media. It tends to be documented in small newspapers, industrial trade magazines in small, generally unsexy, highly technical articles. In Niles, Michigan, for example, a “next generation, state-of-the-art energy center” fueled by natural gas is being proposed as demand increases regionally and coal-fired plants are decommissioned.

Overall, the U.S. industrial Boiler Market size is expected to exceed $600 million by 2024. The benefits of the shift include the growing and abundant supply of natural gas in the United States as well as the low cost and low rate of toxic emission of the new generation of boilers. In China, the shift is even more profound. In the capital city of Beijing alone the nation has cut dirty coal production by 2.5 million tons in 2016 just through the shift to modern, clean-energy boilers.

The Tale of One Aging Boiler in Vermont

In the liberal enclave of Vermont, for instance, the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington this week announced the development of a new heating plant. The $3.75 million project replaces “three aging, oil-fired burners with energy efficient models that burn on natural gas, a move hospital officials expect will lower the campus’ carbon emissions and save $200,000 a year.”

This is a situation that’s being replicated around the country, as many local, state and federal institutions are facing a crisis very similar to the nation’s infrastructure crisis. In Bennington, the boilers being replaced had a 20-year lifespan, but all were well over 30 years old, using 1970s technology to heat a modern medical facility. Moreover, the number 6 fuel oil they burned was also “outdated and increasingly difficult to obtain,” a regulatory board wrote.

Keep in mind this is just one medical center. Now multiply that by thousands. It’s far more complicated than replacing an aging unit. In Bennington, two aging 20,000 gallon underground fuel oil tanks will be removed. They will be replaced by a compressed natural gas ecompression station, a 20,000 gallon above ground number 2 fuel oil storage tank, and about 200 yards of steam pipes.