The U.S. Forestry Service (USFS) has engaged sustainability experts at the University of Illinois, Western Illinois University (WIU), and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to investigate the use of wood waste by businesses as a cheaper and renewable source of heat energy.
A USFS matching grant of $249,328 will allow the U of I's Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), WIU's Illinois Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC) and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) to evaluate wood as an alternative to propane for heating in the Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production sector in Illinois.
The two-year project will examine scientific, economic and cultural aspects that would support the expansion of wood energy markets based on low-value wood residues. The project's goals are to: (1) promote the use of wood to displace the propane currently used for space heating within the Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production sector in Illinois, and (2) evaluate the compatibility of grain farming and animal production facilities, care facilities, correctional centers, schools, universities, etc. with the use of wood as fuel.
An estimated nine million tons of renewable wood in Illinois could be utilized to displace the use of petroleum-based propane. Wood can be a less expensive alternative. USDA which oversees the USFS is particularly emphasizing wood fuel derived from wood debris from National Forests in Illinois.
The team will address the feasibility/capability of various wood thermal heating systems for use in greenhouses. They will build on an ongoing UIUC/ISTC project funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that has found pelletized prairie grasses grown on roadside rights-of way areas can be successfully used as fuel for heating while simultaneously offering economic and environmental benefits.
"Successful technological innovation is far more complex than just a lower fuel cost," said Principal Investigator Nandakishore Rajagopalan. ISTC has conducted a number of current or recent studies on resource conservation and on biomass and wood fuel utilization. ISTC will work with Greenhouse, Nursery and Floriculture business on feasibility, demonstrations, sector specific interface issues, and permitting requirements. This project will also take advantage of networks and contacts of the two university research centers, the USFS, and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.
"This collaboration integrates expertise in business, technology, marketing, education, and outreach aimed at a focused goal," explained Rajagopalan. "We will start with the Greenhouse, Nursery and Floriculture sector in Illinois (the 12th largest in the nation) to stimulate stable growth in the wood fuel market."