Goodbye To Coal, Hello To Biomass

Eastern Illinois University just opened one of the largest biomass installations in the country on its campus. The Renewable Energy Center (REC) is a 19,000 square-foot steam plant that is expected to cut campus energy use in half and carbon emissions by 80 percent.

The plant includes two biomass gasifiers that use wood chips from forest residue that are broken down in a heated, oxygen-deprived chamber into a synthetic gas that burns like natural gas. High-efficiency boilers create the steam used to heat classrooms and buildings across campus. The university said the setup will reduce its annual carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 20,000 metric tons by eliminating coal from its heating-fuel repertoire. The old steam plant, which had burned 10,000 tons of coal every year, will be decommissioned and repurposed for other university needs.

Eastern Illinois University

image via EIU

The new plant, a partnership between EIU and Honeywell, is just one step in a comprehensive energy and environmental conservation strategy for the university. Future steps will include $80 million worth of  energy and water efficiency upgrades across campus.

The REC has its own classroom space and advanced technology displays that will be a part of  the university’s new Center for Clean Energy Research and Education. That center will provide EIU students and faculty opportunities to take part in clean-energy research. The university also plans to offers a new academic minor in sustainability and is in the process of adding a master’s degree in renewable energy.

Here’s a video from EIU and Honeywell all about the new biomass-fired plant:

Kristy Hessman is a writer and native Oregonian who currently resides in California. Before starting her own company, she worked as a reporter covering business and politics for daily newspapers and The Associated Press.