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Projects Updates for Biomass Boiler at the Energy Farm

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  1. Considerations for clean thermal energy

    There are a few examples of clean thermal energy in use on campus at this time. These include:

    • the solar thermal panels on the Activities Rec Center, heating the three swimming pools
    • the biomass boiler at the Energy Farm, heating the two story greenhouse on south Race Street
    • geothermal installations providing heating and cooling at the Fruit Farm Admin Building, the RIPE greenhouse, the Campus Instructional Facility, a few buildings at Allerton Park, the solar decathlon Gable Home at the Energy Farm, and a few rooms in the Hydrosystems Building
    • a wood-fired stove heating some maintenance buildings at Allerton Park

    We could expand these types of energy systems...

    • Additional geothermal installations are being planned for various places around campus, including a geothermal battery system at the Energy Farm.  The other geothermal locations in planning discussions now include the South Campus Center for Interdisciplinary Learning, a future greenhouse for CABBI, and the Doris Christopher Kelley Illinois Extension Building in the Arboretum.
    • The biomass boiler at the Energy Farm was designed with the anticipation of future expansion.
    • Solar thermal is a great option for our area of the planet, but it is not easy to integrate it in our existing energy enterprise.

    Another option for clean thermal energy is biogas, which UIUC contributes to locally through the Grind2Energy system, which takes food waste from the dining halls to the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD).  UCSD puts it through their anaerobic digester which captures the methane (a very strong greenhouse gas).  Currently, that captured methane is used to run an electrical generator, which provides power to the UCSD facility.  An alternative would be to upgrade the methane to pipeline quality and use the biogas a Abbott Power Plant on campus.  This is an expensive option that would require a lot of coordination and funding.

    Another strong option is a micronuclear reactor, which is being studies by the Grainger College of Engineering faculty and researchers.  This system could be integrated with the existing steam distribution system and provide ghg-free energy to campus.


  2. This Week in Research

    What do giant grasses, micro grids, deep wells, and hydrogen-powered buses all have in common? They are all part of a clean energy future that is being imagined, created, and tested here at UIUC. The breadth of our energy research portfolio, across all of the campus and the broader C-U community, is truly impressive. Here are just a few examples:

    Solar Farm 2.0 will soon be home to a newly awarded, $10M project led by Madhu Khanna to optimize the design of "Agrivoltaics," or fields with both crops and solar panels to maintain crop production, produce renewable energy, and increase farm profitability. A few miles to the east, the Energy Farm boasts extensive test plots to study how to grow and use plants as biofuel. The farm is using a biomass boiler to replace propane as the fuel source for its main research greenhouse. The Energy Farm is also home to one of dozens of geothermal wells on campus that are helping scientists like Yu-Feng Lin develop better geothermal systems, while on the north side of campus, the new Campus Instructional Facility is heated and cooled with a state-of-the art geothermal system. Nuclear power is expected to play an important role in meeting our campus ICAP goals, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted a hearing last week to seek input on our plans to site a next-generation, micronuclear reactor near the Abbott Power Plant. Integrating renewable energy sources into the power grid presents unique challenges, and Illinois power system researchers, including Alejandro Domínguez-García, are working to develop microgrid technology to address issues of reliability and resilience. Meanwhile, researchers such as Petros Sofronis are working on a bold new vision for national leadership in the emerging hydrogen economy. (It might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the CUMTD just launched two hydrogen-powered, zero-emission buses—the first in the state!) 

    There is only one way I can wrap up a message about our campus energy research: The future looks bright, indeed!



  3. IWG Meeting Minutes November 30, 2017

  4. iWG meeting agenda November 30, 2017

  5. Biomass Boiler Open House

    Associated Project(s): 

    REMINDER: The Energy Farm at Illinois and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) invite you to attend:

    Illinois Energy Farm Open House 
    & Biomass Boiler Ribbon Cutting

    1-3 p.m.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2017

    Illinois Energy Farm 
    (4110 S. Race St., Urbana)


    In celebration of the completed installation of the Farm's state-of-the-art Heizomat biomass boiler, we invite you to tour the newly-built boiler facilities and meet Heizomat representatives.

    Refreshments will be served. Please let us know you are coming so we can plan accordingly!

    Click here to RSVP today!!

  6. EGEN SWATeam Meeting (4.13.17)

    The EGEN SWATeam held another bi-weekly meeting. Topics covered include:

    • Ximing Cai's [in attendance] vision for iSEE and SWATeams
    • Developing a recommendation to expand UIUC solar farm.
    • Developing a recommendation for another clean energy PPA
    • Cost savings for geothermal systems and opportunities for implementation at solar farm and new building sites
  7. EGEN SWATeam Meeting (3.30.17)

    The EGEN SWATeam held another bi-weekly meeting. Topics covered include:

    • Performing preliminary assessment for clean energy PPA
    • Fact sheet using solar farm as basis to estimate land needs and costs of additional solar farm to meet iCAP goal
    • Update on biomass boiler at energy farm
    • Identifying opportunities to purseu implementation of ground source heat pump (GSHP) technology on campus.
  8. EGEN SWATeam Meeting (3.10.17)

    The EGEN SWATeam held another bi-weekly meeting. Topics covered include:

    • Associate Director for Campus Sustainability Ximing Cai and his vision for iSEE
    • Biomass boiler at Energy Farm
    • Opportunities for Geothermal on campus
  9. Biomass Boiler at Energy Farm

    Construction is underway in Fall 2016 to install a 200 kW biomass boiler at the Energy Farm. This system will initially satisfy all heating needs for the greenhouse onsite, and will replace the current propane heating system. In the future, more buildings may be added to the boiler system.

  10. Our Budding Biomass Boiler

    Developing and implementing new alternative energy sources is essential to ending the era of fossil fuels and extreme carbon emissions. The more alternative energy sources available, the more potential there is for eradicating fossil fuels as the main energy source. Numerous different innovations have developed within the last few decades because of the massive increase in technology efficiency, and the U of I has taken the initiative to implement many of them. These strides toward alternatives increased after the university committed to cease using coal at Abbott by 2017. The replacement of this power will require as many alternatives available as possible in order to meet the growing need.

    Biomass energy is a great example of how the University of Illinois is converting to more renewable energy sources. Biomass can be used to create energy because it contains stored energy from plants that have absorbed energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis. When biomass is burned, this stored energy is released as heat.

    In the Spring of 2014 the SSC funded, Field to Fuel: Biomass Heating on Campus. This project involved purchasing and installing a biomass boiler at the Energy Farm, in order to heat a research greenhouse using Miscanthus that is grown on the Energy Farm. The new biomass boiler arrived in early December, and installation is nearing completion!

    This project is exciting because it is the first biomass energy initiative on campus, and it will work to meet the carbon emission caps that are outlined in the Illinois Climate Action Plan. Additionally, with this project, they hope to demonstrate the feasibility of biomass on campus, engage and familiarize faculty and staff personnel with the design, installation, and operation of such systems with a view to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy production on campus, support the education and training of students, and create awareness in the larger community about alternative energy sources. The ultimate hope for the project is that a successful pilot will pave the way toward expanded use of biomass heating on our campus and greatly reduce our campus greenhouse gas emissions.

  11. Update from Ben McCall

    Associated Project(s): 

    Dear Tim,

    Some bad news to report.  The Revolving Loan Fund committee elected to defer consideration of the funding for the biomass boiler, because they were concerned that the operational and maintenance issues were not yet worked out.  This is not as bad of news as I first thought, because the RLF process is going to be revamped in the spring to be more of a "rolling deadline" process, so we should be able to go back to them sometime in the spring and get a quick response.

    Given the delay in RLF funding, it seems to make sense to delay our proposal to ICECF until July.  Another important consideration here is that the North Campus Parking Deck Solar project is evidently going to apply to ICECF in January, and there is at least some concern about submitting two proposals from campus in the same round.  Yet another consideration is that upon reviewing the ICECF form, we noticed that they are looking for a well-developed educational plan...and we have not really spent any time working on that.

    So I'm afraid we are in a bit of limbo here, until we get the O&M issues resolved and the MOU with F&S finalized. Hopefully we can tackle that in January, so that we're ready to go back to RLF as soon as their process re-opens.

    At least we've finally made great headway on the engineering work, and will have some real budgetary numbers to work with soon...!




  12. Field to Fuel-Biomass

    This project involves purchasing and installing a biomass boiler at the Energy Farm, in order to heat a research greenhouse using Miscanthus that is grown on the Energy Farm. The hope for the project is that a successful pilot will pave the way toward expanded use of biomass heating on our campus in order to reduce our campus greenhouse gas emissions.

  13. Q&A with Tim Mies and Mike Marquissee

    Associated Project(s): 

    From: Marquissee, Mike
    Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:22 AM
    To: Mies, Timothy A; Anderson, Gary L; Dale Johnston (
    Subject: RE: Copy of UofI propane 040414-MLM EDITS.xls


    See answers below.


    From: Mies, Timothy A
    Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:01 AM
    To: Marquissee, Mike; Anderson, Gary L; Dale Johnston (
    Subject: RE: Copy of UofI propane 040414-MLM EDITS.xls

    Hi Mike,

    Several questions have come up that I would like you input on in regards to the green revolving loan fund in cases that might occur that do not follow the typical project pattern.

    Scenario 1) The energy farm reverts to another department at the completion of the grant of the Energy Biosciences Institute before the loan is repaid.  How would the loan be handled in cases where the new department weren’t within the VCR cost area? 

    • Since the loan is being repaid from the campus pool in favor of the VCR, it is likely that it would still pay out in favor of which other campus department it goes to.  Unless it turns into a self-supporting entity, which is unlikely.  In that unlikely event, the self-supporting entity would repay the loan.

    Scenario 2) A crop loss occurs one year that would limit/prevent the savings that are estimated from our initial estimates? 

    • The Campus utility pool would still pay out.  Just that the savings would not be recognized.  It would also pay for the additional propane.  The loss would not come out of the project.

    Scenario 3) Miscanthus ceases to be produced on the energy farm, resulting in no more mxg produced locally?  Would F&S then consider purchasing MXG from a local farmer who could supply the material? Assuming the boiler installed could handle multiple feedstocks, wood chips may be an alternative. 

    • We support this project because there is a research project attached to it.  If that project is discontinued, we would then have to discuss who repays the loan.  Most likely it would be out of the research fund, then, which would also pay for the restoration of the site and so on.  I don’t think we would be interested in providing alternative fuel sources or manage an abandoned research project.

    Thanks for your input.


  14. Marc Caluwe from Caluwe Biomass Heating Solutions in MA, US

    Associated Project(s): 

    From: Mies, Timothy A
    Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 4:54 PM
    To: Halverson, Robert; Ben McCall <> ( (; Johnston, Morgan B; Rajagopalan, Nandakishore
    Subject: Quick summary and highlights from Marc's visit

    Just a quick summary of the discussions that occurred with Marc Caluwe from Caluwe Biomass  Heating Solutions in MA, US.

    Heizomat is the manufacturer that Marc is a representative for in the US.  I have several brochures that I can pass along that have details on the product line including the RHK-AK model that Marc recommended.  Key points of interest for this group in selecting / approving a boiler:

    • This unit utilizes a drag chain conveyor across the burn bed to handle / stir the material as it burns until dropping into an automatic ash clean out.
    • We discussed what emissions controls would be needed, and Marc indicated that would be a decision campus would have to address.  Marc will be forwarding a brochure that compares emissions values from several manufacturers in the UK.  Options in order of cost would be a cyclone and then an electrostatic reciprocator.
    • UL certification on this model is pending in approx. May of this year.  Due to the cost of ASME certification, they do not plan on testing to that standard.  Instead, in the US they run the boilers at atmospheric pressure with a vent on top.  In this configuration, a plate heat exchanger would be used between the boiler and a thermal storage tank (they recommend old propane tanks as acceptable).  The boilers when used in EU are rated and run at 2 bar (30psi).  Marc cited National Board Synopsis NB370 ( that farms would be exempt from this requirement to run at atm.,  but universities / state / industry would not be.  It would be nice to get confirmation of this from engineering.
    • The boiler recommended has an infinite turndown ration (VFD on blowers) to 10% and then shuts down.  A hot air ignition system in used for lighting / relighting.
    • When running on MXG, in order to minimize clinker caused by low melting point of ash, a lower operating temperature is required, also requiring an 30% approx. upsize  in the model to get the rated output.  If we want 200Kw, we need to consider stepping up to a 250Kw model.
    • Material handling / storage / feeding was discussed at length, and Marc was going back to Heizomat to get their recommendations for the best system.  Heizomat does not offer a bale processor at this time, but has a bulk bin feed system to collect chopped material to be burned.

    Marc indicated that he would provide estimates (hopefully  by Friday noon) on a boiler system including a storage feed system, and also the same system installed in a cargo container, prewired, plumbed, etc.

    In addition to the discussions with Mark, Luis Rund presented a very nice plan / rendering of a cargo container size boiler housing that had glass fronts on one half for viewers, and the other half a biomass storage container.  Probably out of our price range at this point, but would make a nice travel display for shows, demos, etc.

    I also had a call later in the day from a representative of Biomass Energy Solutions in MO who is a sales rep for Uniconfort  (Italy) and we had very similar discussions on running at atmospheric pressures.  More literature is coming, and Jared Findley with BES forwarded some links I had looked at initially for the bale processors used for animal feedlots. 

    Let me know if you have any further questions or need clarification on above.