U of M Morris practices green energy

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Even on the dawn of the annual “Beautiful U Day” and its celebration of campus-wide environmental sustainability, the University’s Twin Cities campus isn’t the only one seeing in a shade of green these days.

The University’s Morris campus is already taking steps toward a goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2010.

As part of the renewable energy initiative of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the Morris campus is home to a wind turbine and a biomass gasifier, and has plans to add two turbines.

“Morris is an ideal location for a wind turbine: it has excellent wind spectrum,” Morris campus sustainability coordinator Troy Goodnough said.

The existing wind turbine was installed in 2005 by the West Central Research and Outreach Center. Fifty percent of electricity at the campus is turbine-powered and has recently received a Renewable Energy Bond to fund the construction of a second turbine that, according to Goodnough, should meet the remaining demand. The turbines are crucial to research of using wind energy to generate hydrogen from water.

A third steam-powered turbine will soon be added to the recently built biomass gasifier at Morris. The gasifier will begin operation in May; its purpose will be to heat campus buildings.

“UMM plans to gasify more than 8,000 tons of corn stover and other field residue to heat and cool campus each year,” Goodnough said.

Morris campus residential housing also has go-green plans, with construction on the new Green Prairie Living and Learning residence hall beginning this year.

It’s designed to supply the facility with more daylight, healthier air, less energy and water demand and more opportunities for community interaction. Final design plans are still being negotiated, with completion set for fall 2009.

Goodnough said the campus’ sustainability efforts are part of a broader vision for the University system. “Morris has a lot of wind and a lot of agriculture; this is a unique place to utilize some important natural resources.”

The urban setting of the Twin Cities campus differs greatly by comparison to Morris; however, the sustainability efforts are similar.

In the Twin Cities, an on-campus program was initiated in 2007 to compost kitchen and dining room waste. Most dining halls currently participate, with more dining locations becoming active as the program persists, according to University Dining Services.

Like Morris, the Twin Cities campus has an on-campus biomass gasifier, which University director of energy management Jerome Malmquist maintains was one of the first in the country.

A study completed last year proved the Twin Cities campus unsuitable for a wind turbine.

Despite this setback, the Twin Cities campus continues to explore other options for renewable forms of energy, such as methane digestion generation. “What we are looking at is very difficult to do in the Twin Cities,” Malmquist said.

The Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment began with funding from the state Legislature and Xcel Energy for renewable energy research in 2003. IREE was initially given $20 million over five years.

Todd Reubold, Institute on the Environment spokesman, said since its inception, IREE has supported 135 projects and 400 scientists, students and technicians across the University of Minnesota system.

A significant portion of the funding went to Morris to purchase the first wind turbine and begin related programs. “We support research projects in Morris and around the state. It is not just a Twin Cities focus,” Reubold said.

IREE’s success in student training and the use of funds has proven beneficial. The Legislature allowed the program to continue beyond its scheduled term from 2003 to 2008, and increased annual funding. There is no end date set for the program.

“IREE has really worked hard to positioning the ‘U’ as a research leader, and it is a good balance with what Morris is doing, putting these technologies on the ground,” Reubold said. “It is difficult to compare the two campuses because we collaborate with a lot of our projects. I think there are benefits going both ways.”

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