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Feature

The wind turbine in Morris

The Biomass Research and Development Initiative--along with this 367-foot wind turbine--are putting the University of Minnesota at the forefront of renewable energy development.

UMM receives federal funding for biomass development

Published on November 8, 2005

With rising oil prices and unreliable fuel supplies, the incentive to develop alternative fuel sources in the United States is strong. Recently, the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM), became one of only 11 sites selected to receive funding for the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

"This cooperative conservation partnership benefits our nation with enhanced energy security, a cleaner environment, and revitalized rural economies," said USDA secretary Mike Johann during the award presentation in October. "The selected projects support President Bush's goal to enhance renewable energy supplies. The grants will help to develop additional renewable energy resources and expand markets for agricultural products."

Lowell Rasmussen, associate vice chancellor for physical plant and planning at UMM, says the $1.9 million award enhances the funding UMM has already received from the Minnesota Legislature and University of Minnesota for its research in biomass.

What is gasification?

The gasification process converts any carbon-containing material into a synthesis gas composed primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel to generate electricity or steam or used as a basic chemical building block for a large number of uses in the petrochemical and refining industries. Gasification adds value to low- or negative-value feedstocks by converting them to marketable fuels and products.

Source: Gasification Technologies Council

In April 2005, the Minnesota Legislature approved a bonding bill that allocated $6 million to construct a biomass gasification demonstration and research facility on the Morris campus. When completed, the facility--designed to burn a wide variety of biomass including corn stalks and small grain straw--will provide more than 80 percent of the Morris campus's heating and cooling needs. UMM will invest its new federal dollars into promoting the adaptation of biomass systems across the state and nation.

Biomass sources do not produce greenhouse gases and emit fewer pollutants than traditional fuel sources such as coal, oil, and wood. Learning to "gasify" these sources is an emerging technology. And on the Morris campus, University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center researchers--working alongside scientists from other agencies--will explore the obstacles to establishing community-scale biomass systems and develop tools to enhance the spread of biomass gasification systems. The researchers will work with or burn six different types of biomass feedstock--corn stover, corn earlage, wheat straw, soybean residue, native grasses, and hybrid poplar--and the information obtained from test burns will be used to create the Biomass Toolbox. The toolbox will include Standard Operating Procedures, Best Management Practices, Templates for Contracts and Pricing Structures, and Environmental Permitting Templates. Capstone classes for professionals and World Wide Web monitoring of the biomass system highlight the outreach efforts.

According to the Department of Energy, increased demand for production and processing of biomass will not only support traditional U.S. commodities such as corn, it will create new cash crops for America's farmers and foresters, as well as encourage better use of agricultural and forestry residues.

UMM partnered in the application process for the award with the West Central Research and Outreach Center, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service-North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Otter Tail Power Company, the University of Minnesota, and Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment. USDA and DOE received more than 600 applications.

For its commitment to renewable energy, in particular the on-site generation of it, UMM also received a 2005 Green Power Leadership Award. The annual award is sponsored by the DOE, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Center for Resource Solutions.