Eastern Illinois University fires up biomass gasification system

By Anna Austin | October 10, 2011

Eastern Illinois University has commissioned a biomass gasification energy system that will annually consume about 27,000 tons of wood chips to provide heat and electricity to the campus.

The gasification plant is the main component of EIU’s Renewable Energy Center, which includes two gasifiers, a back-pressure turbine and two ground-mounted solar arrays. It replaces the university’s existing 10,000-ton-per-year coal system that EIU plans to decommission and repurpose.

Besides its energy savings benefits, the REC has an educational component—it has dedicated classroom space and advanced technology displays that will eventually be part of a center for clean energy research and education. Currently, EIU offers a new academic minor in sustainability, and is in the process of adding a master's degree in renewable energy.

The REC is part of EIU’s expanded, $80 million energy savings and environmental conservation program, which includes other energy and water efficiency upgrades across campus. Program partner Honeywell International has provided the university with a 20-year performance contract and projects that EIU will see more than $140 million in energy savings over the next two decades.

The university notes that because it financed the work and is using the subsequent savings to pay for the improvements, the program will not place a burden on the university’s budget or require additional taxpayer dollars or student fees. “The energy savings is not only significant enough to help fund construction of the plant, but it will also pay dividends in years to come,” said Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions. He said the project is one of the largest renewable energy projects at a university in the U.S.

Janice Hunt, EIU public information specialist, said that the biomass plant has been well accepted by the public. The only issue that was brought to the university during the construction process was some nearby residents' concerns with the look of the plant. "The [university] president put the project on hold then and the building was changed to be much more aesthetically pleasing," she said.