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A closer look at bioenergy

October 6, 2010

Bob Vogl (from left), Chet Kolodziej and Chip Brewster from WIFR-23 News at Bioenergy Days. Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl

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

Sunday, Sept. 26, we visited the bioenergy displays on stage at the Coronado Theatre and quickly recognized a problem common to many such events this year. Attendance was low, even though the International Bioenergy Conference was well planned and implemented.

We were pleased to see the fine displays organized by Freedom Field, the Boone County Bioenergy project and the City of Rockford. Since our wood furnace is showing signs of aging, we were also pleased to see the biogas furnace built in Sweden and designed for home use. The unit is just entering the U.S. market, and burns wood or wood chips to heat water, which is then circulated throughout the house. If there is not a hot water distribution system, the water can be passed through a pipe into a blower unit, which then distributes hot air throughout the house. We also viewed a video of the unit’s installation and performance, and had a chance to discuss it with the firm’s representative.

An afternoon of exhibits was followed by two days of speeches about best practices, political issues and applying and implementing bioenergy, and capped with a day of field trips. One was to Freedom Field, where executive board members Chet Kolodziej, Dave Martindale, John Sweeney and Bob Vogl explained the program and systems including a PV system, two wind generators, solar hot water system used to heat in winter and cool in summer, a small furnace that can burn a variety of biomass fuel sources to be used to provide supplemental heat to the solar hot water panels, and the green roof. Most of the tour group members climbed the final flight of stairs to the roof, where they viewed the systems firsthand.

The biomass industry is expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 3.9 percent per year over the next five years and reach nearly $700 billion in global sales. Organic wastes from a variety of sources and municipal trash can be burned to meet energy needs. Controlling emissions from the combustion process must meet environmental standards.

Biomass furnaces can burn a variety of wastes to produce steam and generate electricity. Biomass fuel options include wood wastes, wood chips, pelletized paper, yard waste and agricultural crops. If wood wastes are used, the high cost of grinding, transporting and drying the fiber for combustion in a power plant sets limits on the distance they can be transported to the plant. Similar limits are faced by corn stover or stalks and grasses like switch grass.

Relatively small combustion units have proven cost effective already in schools, prisons and hospitals in areas still dependent on oil for fuel.

Sewage treatment plants have used methane produced from human wastes as a supplemental heat source in their operations for years. Somewhat underutilized is methane that is flared off landfill operations. Within the last few years, William Charles Ltd. looked into capturing methane from some of their landfills to power their fleet of trucks used to collect refuse. With the drop in fuel prices, the economics of such a transition was less appealing.

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 sonia@essex1.com.

From the Oct. 6-12, 2010 issue

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