Crookston, Minn. — It’s almost always about the numbers.

An AURI initiative will help poultry producers and others decide if converting some heating systems to biomass power makes economic sense.

The Minnesota Biomass Combustion Heating Feasibility Guide, developed by the initiative, will review the technical and economic feasibility “of converting propane and fuel oil systems to biomass,” says Randy Hilliard, AURI project director.

Hilliard and AURI scientist Al Doering will study the economics of installing half-million, one-million and five-million Btu-per-hour biomass systems for light industrial operations such as turkey barns. They will identify burner manufacturers, the costs of installation, operation and biomass feedstocks, and the estimated return on investment.

“We have received substantial interest from turkey producers, greenhouses and others who are interested in converting their current systems to biomass,” says Doering, head of AURI’s coproduct laboratory in Waseca. “In order to make that decision, they need to know how it will work from an economic perspective.”

Biomass may have a difficult time competing with low-cost fuels such as natural gas. But up against higher-cost propane and fuel oil, “the economics could make some sense,” Hilliard says.

Beside economics, Hilliard says the initiative will look at all potential benefits of biomass heat, including animal health. It is expected to be completed and available this winter.