Update: Energy Farm Biomass Boiler!
UPDATE FEB. 2, 2017 — A handout on the biomass boiler >>>
UPDATE DEC. 13, 2016 — The biomass boiler arrived at the Energy Farm. Check out the new pictures and read more about the project below.
This winter, campus will add a new form of renewable energy to its portfolio.
Major upgrades to the heating systems in the main greenhouse at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Energy Farm are almost complete in preparation for the arrival of a biomass boiler, which will be installed in December and begin heating that facility in January.
In this greenhouse, researchers study energy crops from tropical climates — a climate that is expensive to recreate using propane in the middle of Illinois’ winter months. The new 198 kW boiler will instead burn part of the Farm’s energy crop harvest to heat water that will be piped through the greenhouse and help maintain the warm conditions needed to conduct research while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Click the arrows below to see some of the new infrastructure installed to provide water to the boiler and the heat back to the greenhouse.
The new biomass power plant at the Energy Farm is one of many steps campus will take to reach the low-carbon targets for energy use spelled out in the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP). In addition to the direct elimination of fossil fuel use at the greenhouse, the boiler project is also intended to serve as a case study and educational tool for University facilities personnel and students.
The system is expected to produce an equivalent to the energy needs of 16 average homes or an office building, day and night.
“We hope the size of this pilot energy plant will demonstrate the viability and sustainability of biomass-based power in a University building,” former iSEE Associate Director Ben McCall said. “We can help familiarize operational personnel at University Facilities & Services with a system like this so they feel comfortable running and maintaining one elsewhere, and provide experiential learning opportunities for students.”
“This system will not only demonstrate perennial grasses as a low carbon renewable energy heating source in the Midwest, but also demonstrate low-cost distributed heating systems — where a centralized boiler could heat multiple houses or small industrial complex.” said Tim Mies, Director of the Energy Farm at Illinois. “This system will demonstrate hot water heating systems for a small district heating system more typically seen overseas for example in Europe where a local boiler might heat 10-20 houses in close proximity.”
Thinking big, the original project team suggested that technical data and operating experience gained from this pilot plant may support rationale for a full-scale renewable energy facility to serve the U of I.
The purchase of the boiler and its installation were supported by grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF), the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC), the Dudley Smith Initiative, and proceeds from the 2015 campus sale of verified carbon credits to Chevrolet.