Adding wood to the biomass boiler at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.

The Sisters of Providence are on the cutting edge with the new energy source that began heating and powering the nearly 550,000-square-feet of buildings they call home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods the fall of 2008. The biomass boiler installed in 2007 that replaced two old, inefficient boilers is finally being put to work.

The Sisters of Providence hope that economically this will be much more viable than gas. They are taking a waste that they and others have and making it into a product.

Obtaining the materials to burn has been successful. The estimated three to four truckloads per day of byproducts being burned in the biomass boiler, such as downed trees, trimmings and scrap wood from construction projects, are being donated from local tree services, cities and manufacturing companies.

Mike and Frances Scott of Scott’s Tree Service, located outside of West Terre Haute, Ind., have donated tree trimmings to the Sisters of Providence biomass program.

“It’s a big benefit for us because we don’t have to pay for dumping,” Frances Scott said. “We’re there about every other day. And rather than discarding it it’s being recycled.”

Environmentally, the choice of biomass uses materials that are sustainable and alleviates the dependence on oil or gas. The Sisters of Providence and Earth benefit because biomass is a fully renewable energy resource and essentially generates no greenhouse gas.

Economically, the Sisters of Providence are hoping to save about $400,000 a year with this new energy system. For instance, instead of buying 241,200 decatherm of natural gas for a six-month period 3,000 tons of biomass will be used.

The biomass process is more labor intensive because of the unloading of ash rather than watching the gauges for a natural gas boiler. The team works hard to keep everything running smoothly constantly.