MU aims to reduce emissions by 30 percent

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 6:06 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The university aims to reduce campus carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2016, MU master planner Linda Eastley said Wednesday.

A new wood-burning boiler at the MU Power Plant and solar panels on a new building at the plant will help decrease emissions this year, according to the 2012 Campus Master Plan. A wind turbine will also be installed on campus by this fall.

The 30 percent reduction goal is based on campus emissions measurements from 2008. As of July, MU had reduced carbon emissions by about 9 percent from that year, according to the second annual Climate Action Plan. Eastley presented the two plans at an open forum Wednesday.

Key goals

The climate plan outlines several sustainability goals for the next five years, including:

  • Composting more waste using MU facilities, which are currently under construction, with a long-term goal of not putting any campus waste into landfills.
  • Moving forward with plans for a sustainable community garden near Curtis Hall, east of the Sears greenhouse.
  • Increasing the percentage of locally-procured food from 14 percent to 20 percent.
  • Continuing to work on improving mass transit to fit students' needs.

Renewable energy projects — including the wood-burning boiler, solar panels and the wind turbine — will all be in place this fall, according to the climate plan.

The turbine will be installed at the southeast corner of Stadium Boulevard and Champions Drive. Eventually, it will power the Beef Barn located there. The Beef Barn serves as shop space and a storage facility for the university.

The small-scale wind and solar power projects are mostly demonstrative and will allow faculty and students to give input on how renewable energy should be used on campus in the future, Gary Ward, associate vice chancellor of facilities, said at Wednesday's forum.

"Both wind power and solar power are something we're very interested in, but it's not quite where it needs to be," he said.

Keeping track

Starting this year, MU plans to measure its progress using a sustainability tracking system called STARS.

The Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System is a relatively new point-based system used by many colleges and universities, Eastley said. Campuses can share their sustainability statistics with other schools using the system.

"You have the opportunity to benchmark yourself against your peers, which is valuable," Eastley said.

The university plans to use LEED principles for several new building projects, which certifies that the projects are energy efficient and sustainably constructed. Proposed LEED-certified projects include the University Hospital ER expansion and Patient Care Tower, the Animal Resource Center and renovations of Gwynn Hall and Wolpers and Johnston residence halls.

MU is also trying to obtain certain LEED certifications on a campus-wide basis, including certifications for water-efficient landscaping, on-site renewable energy and environmental tobacco smoke control.

Progress in recent years

This year's climate plan also shows several sustainability efforts that have made progress in recent years:

  • MU's recycling rate increased by 5 percent in the past year.
  • Campus water use per student is down 57 percent from 1990 to 2011, from 28,000 gallons per student to 12,000 gallons per student.

  • MU reduced the number of student commuter permits issued by 6 percent, from 5,462 permits in 2007 to 5,156 permits in 2011, despite an increase in enrollment.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions decreased from 40 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per 1,000 square feet in 1990 to 29 metric tons per 1,000 square feet in 2008.

The first MU Climate Action Plan was published in January 2011 after Chancellor Brady Deaton signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment in 2009. The plan is updated every year, when goals are set for the next five years.

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Ellis Smith March 14, 2012 | 9:59 p.m.

Wood is about 45% carbon. (Carbon contents vary somewhat.)
Bituminous coal is more than 85% carbon. Let's round that off to twice the carbon for coal as wood.

Armed with only that information, anyone might conclude that it's a fine thing to burn wood rather than bituminous coal. After all, wouldn't there be more carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere when burning coal?

Wood (dry weight) has a caloric content of about 4,500 BTU per pound; bituminous coal has a caloric content per pound AT LEAST THREE TIMES THAT.


When the industrial age began, wood was the source of fuel; it soon became apparent that wood lacked the caloric content to fuel industry (pun entirely intended), and there was some concern about running out of trees.


What we do not know is the thermal efficiency of the new MU unit versus whatever it replaces, as thermal efficiency is a major factor, but I must assume the new unit is super efficient, and that whatever it replaces was bloody awful.

PS: I am NOT shilling here for coal; the same case can be made for natural gas versus wood. Natural gas and coal are high caloric fuels.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 15, 2012 | 6:38 a.m.

Chapter 2:

Planing mill sawdust was once a problem in our Southeastern United States. What to do with it? There were large "waste" piles, which sometimes caught fire and smoldered for weeks(making nearby citizens and municipalities unhappy).

Devices for firing building bricks, called tunnel kilns, were built to burn the sawdust as fuel, injected into the kiln along with the necessary air to support combustion. "Scrubbers" were used to remove particulates (read "ash") from the kilns' stack exhausts. There you have a fuel source utilizing something that was a problem (and an eyesore). However, combustion of wood produces carbon dioxide.

More recently - and I wish I could show you this - a tunnel kiln has been built in Indiana making the same product that utilizes a combination of low-sulfur coal, air, and natural gas to supply combustion. Why two fuels? Because a small amount of natural gas, added to the coal-air mixture significantly improves combustion efficiency. The pulverized coal-air-natural gas delivery system looks like a plumber's nightmare - but it works. :) Exhaust gases are "scrubbed" and sulfur is removed to comply with regulations.

Typically in such kilns, injection of the fuel-air mixture is from above (the "crown" of the kiln; injection from the kiln sidewalls is possible.

There are various ways to "skin the cat," but all such projects need to start with what it is we really want to accomplish, remembering that some considerations may run counter to others.

Of course if you want no carbon dioxide emissions, don't employ fuel combustion. Easier said than done!

BTW, when they first began using planing mill sawdust as fuel, the sawdust was FREE (for the hauling). Now it ISN'T! When something becomes valuable...

(Report Comment)
frank christian March 15, 2012 | 7:15 a.m.

But, Ellis, Our White House and Senate do not seem to be embracing this innovation in production of Energy, tho they claim, more energy for America, to be uppermost in their minds. Take all the time and space you need and please explain this phenomenon.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 15, 2012 | 8:21 a.m.

frank christian wrote:

"Our White House and Senate do not seem to be embracing this innovation in production of Energy, tho they claim, more energy for America, to be uppermost in their minds."

Unfortunately, wood has issues with net energy that coal and NG, being far higher caloric value fuels, do not have to near the extent. The advantage of wood is as the tree grows, it removes CO2 from the air, releasing it when it is burned, so it is more or less "carbon-neutral".

You can never burn totally dry wood, and that limits the temerature that can be produced in the boiler (limiting efficiency). Moreover, it can be variable depending on what you're burning. Pelleting sawmill and other wood waste can yield a pretty consistent fuel, but that's an energy intensive process. Also, woodlots typically can only produce 2-3 tons of wood/year per acre sustainably. MU's new boiler is projected to burn 100,000 tons of wood/year, to generate only 25% of the plant's output. That's a lot of land, logging, pelleting, and transportation for a relatively small amount of energy. Moreover, all of the above operations are dependent on fossil fuels, making the whole process considerably less than carbon neutral.

150 years ago, we ran the country with biofuels, but our energy "requirements" were a tiny fraction of what they are now. Biofuels aren't a solution, in fact, they're not even much of a blip on the horizon. They exist as business ventures and window dressing, not true solutions. Without fossil fuels to do the processing, they wouldn't even be under consideration except for the traditional ways they were used in the past.


(Report Comment)
Matt Wilkinson March 18, 2012 | 6:13 p.m.

@Mark Foecking

The MU biomass boiler will not be burning pelletized wood. The supply of fuel will be in the form of oak wood chips direct from the mill without any additional processing.

Perhaps the burning of wood chips might not be entirely carbon neutral but it will nonetheless reduce the carbon footprint of the MU plant. Sure, there is fossil fuel involved (diesel) because of transport from the mill in Auxvasse but so there is for transporting coal 7 times the distance from southern Illinois. I know personally that the MU energy management folks have done the calculations factoring in all of the variables, energy density of wood VS coal, transportation etc. And there is a significant carbon footprint reduction. There is also the added benefit of offsetting discharge of mercury and other harmful pollutants from the stacks.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 31, 2012 | 8:09 a.m.

Mark Foecking:

I just stumbled onto the exchange between you and Matt Wilkinson concerning use of biofuels. I am (surprise!) entirely in agreement with your viewpoint.

However, as I've previously said, we need to start with what it is someone wants to accomplish. If someone wants to burn biofuels, damn any negative consequences, then the approach to be used at MU makes sense. After all, the Industrial Age began with wood as fuel, but people soon realized that the caloric value of wood was poor and that at the rate we'd need to burn that fuel we could easily run out of trees (trees ain't corn, you can't grow an annual crop!).

Contrast that approach with one that cuts carbon dioxide emissions by about 80%, but uses some high caloric fuel. Where? At another UM System campus. That design "enhances" already available heat (from beneath the ground) to satisfy its energy requirements, which, we must readily admit, are only a fraction of those at the Columbia campus.

Different strokes for different folks! It might be said that these different approaches also mirror other differences between the two campuses. :)

(Report Comment)

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