UMM builds gasifier for heat, research

By Susanne Retka Schill
Construction began this summer on an $8.9 million biomass gasification heat plant on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) in Morris, Minn. The gasifier will replace about $500,000 of natural gas purchased annually to heat campus buildings. Construction is expected to be complete by the spring of 2008.

According to Lowell Rasmussen, a UMM associate vice chancellor, the project is unique because of its fuel source-corn stover-and its size. "We wanted to demonstrate a gasifier that could be used by small, rural business and industries," he said. With a small-business user in mind, he said the university chose one of the more simplified gasifier designs-with atmospheric pressure, inclined grate and fixed bed-built by KMW Systems Inc. in London, Ontario.

UMM, along with the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, received a $1.89 million, three-year grant from the USDA and U.S. DOE to conduct research on feedstocks and ash properties on campus. "We're pretty sure we can keep the minerals (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) in the ash," Rasmussen said. The two entities hope to find the optimal balance between burning carbon and returning an adequate amount to the soil. They will also study problems associated with corn stover's high silica content and evaluate switchgrass, straw, soybean residue and poplar. Future plans include adding a 400-kilowatt generator and cooling capacity.