Freedom Field’s open house

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The new Rockford Water Reclamation District’s LEED-certified administration building was an appropriate setting for Wednesday’s (July 7) Freedom Field press conference. Nearly 100 enthusiastic people attended.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) opened the event and thanked those who contributed to the project, particularly U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16) and state Rep. Dave Winters (R-68) for securing funds to get started.

Funds from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the Winnebago County Board were also essential to the project.

John Holmstrom, chairman of the Freedom Field board, described Freedom Field as a demonstration project, illustrating the feasibility of renewable energy technologies. By seeing the applications and how they are integrated, the project should inspire others to consider renewable energy.

Perhaps they will see ways of improving the systems, or realize they can make components or fix them. All could generate new business opportunities. Rockford remains a center of manufacturing excellence that can be translated into new-world successes with renewable energy.

Chet Kolodziej, executive director of Freedom Field, identified its applications now in service. A weather station reveals environmental conditions, essential to drawing correlations between weather and system performance. Solar thermal heating and cooling and solar electric panels will be linked with a building-mounted vertical wind turbine and a ground-mounted 10 kW generator. Soon, biological materials will be turned into gas for fuel and linked into the system.

Later, advanced battery units will store and release electric power as needed to add stability. Algae is being processed to capture oil for biodiesel fuel.

Freedom Field is unique in that diverse renewable energy sources are linked together into one energy system. Dave Martindale of Ballard Electric is installing, servicing and integrating the units. Live performance can be viewed at Student interns from Rock Valley College are assisting in the work.

Winters indicated that as the challenges of integrating multiple renewable energy units into one operating system are met, lessons learned will be helpful for other applications in Illinois.

Mayor Morrissey reminded participants of the years of cooperative effort that went into developing Freedom Field. The project illustrates the community’s goals of education, entrepreneurship and renewable energy and provides a path to follow for years to come. The new LEED-certified building and Wanxiang’s production of solar electric panels are integral to those goals.

Bob O’Brien of the Chicago Rockford International Airport recalled initial efforts to launch the renewable energy project. He hopes to develop an Aerospace and Alternative Research and Developmental facility to create more area jobs. The airport expects to secure a significant portion of their energy needs from the planned 200-acre solar electric farm and by recycling the 25 million gallons of deicing liquid in their storage pond.

Steve Graceffa of the Rock River Water Reclamation District noted the use of biofuel from their digester to power electric generators for on-site use. New centrifuges used to de-water bio-solids require far less room than the previous system, which allowed space for the installation of Freedom Field.

Mark Podemski of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council pointed out that the public/private partnership gives the Rockford area a tremendous opportunity to take an idea and develop it into a business.

Wanxiang General Manager Mike Schaal pointed out that solar electric panels are being produced at their new plant and sold nationally. As local suppliers are certified, Wanxiang expects to buy framing, glass and adhesives from them, contributing to job growth.

Linnea Bingtsson, from Lidkoping, Sweden, discussed existing exchange programs between Rockford and Sweden. She is looking forward to Bioenergy Days in September.

Following the formal presentations, tours were provided. Blessed with a sunny day, both the solar air conditioning and pv panels performed admirably.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

From the July 14-20, 2010 issue

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