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University saves green by being green

By Jennifer Carrico

Being renewable has become a fad lately to help leave the Earth a better place for future generations; however, being renewable isn't new to some.

In the late 1970s, natural gas prices were skyrocketing and many had to find alternative ways to heat. Northwest Missouri State University had to figure out how to fuel the college because the town of Maryville would likely not have enough natural gas to do so.

Northwest steam plant supervisor James Teaney said the university administration was open to ideas and the decision was made to convert to burning woodchips for fuel in order to reduce their dependency on petroleum-based fuels.

"Wood products could be replenished by growing more. It would be a better way to fuel the university and a long-term solution," he said.

Beginning in 1982, the school began burning woodchips and since 1992 they have also burnt pelletized paper.

"We figure the university has saved $12 to 15 million in the past 30 years because of this change," said Teaney. "If we burn a cheaper fuel, then the university can use that money for other needs."

These savings have assisted Northwest in efficiently managing utility costs and balancing budgets during years of declining state appropriations while continuing to focus on maintaining affordability for its students.

Northwest doesn't harvest trees to supply fuel for the power plant. Instead, they receive truckloads of woodchips or wood waste naturally generated from the process of manufacturing forest products.

"In the past, wood mills had a problem with how to dispose all the woodchips they produced, so they were more than happy to supply us with this product," said Teaney.

According to the university's website, Northwest's wood plant operation earned the Energy Conservation Resource Steward Award for the state of Missouri in 1983. In 1984, the U.S. Department of Energy proclaimed the wood plant operation an outstanding example of the use of renewable energy sources. And in 1985, the Missouri governor recognized Northwest with an award for energy innovation.

(JUMP HERE) Current challenges have been seen with the rise in the cost of diesel fuel to get the product hauled to the university. But Teaney said they are still relying on the woodchips for now.

"We can burn about three truck loads of woodchips per day if needed and have used up to 13,000 tons of woodchips per year," he said. "It all depends on the harshness of the winter. Last winter we didn't use as much as normal since it was so mild, therefore we had some leftover."

The woodchips are stored at the recycle and pellet plant on the west side of campus. There, you will find a huge pile of woodchips. Teaney said the oldest woodchips are burnt first and he and other employees keep track of where they are hauling. The chips are then hauled in to the power plant on the other side of campus. Trucks are unloaded onto the ground and then the storage silo is filled. From the silo, the woodchips enter conveyor belts and go through the sorter and magnets catch metals that might be in the woodchips to prevent it from entering the boiler. Woodchips enter the boiler from above and are spread out along the bottom to burn, burning at temperatures up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The power plant runs 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Six operators and mechanics keep the plant running on three eight-hour shifts. Someone is at the plant 24 hours per day.

Teaney said the wood boiler can keep the university warm when the outside temperatures are between 30 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which allow them to cut back on the amount of other fuels that need to be burnt. Currently 80 to 85 percent of the thermal energy needs of the university come from alternative fuels.

"We can't be 100 percent independent from natural gas, especially when it's really cold for long amounts of time, but we do our best to only use it when we have to," he said.

In 1990, the state of Missouri targeted the need for a 40 percent reduction in the amount of waste accepted by state landfills and created geographic waste districts to develop plans to carry this out.

At that point, Teaney said, they decided to build the Biomass Processing Center, which uses the same machine as what is used to make cattle and hog feed, to make paper pellets for burning. Paper products were purchased for a small amount from the city of Maryville to make into pellets to be burnt at the power plant.

"These cooperative efforts helped us out as well as the landfill," he said "However, when the recycle plant was closed in Maryville, we had to bring in the product for area trash haulers. We don't burn near as much paper pellets as we did the first few years of adding the pellet plant."

With the increase in diesel prices to haul the woodchips in, Teaney said he might need to consider having a smaller storage area for the woodchips and instead try to keep the inventory down in order to keep costs down.

He is pleased that the university's administration has supported the renewable energy ideas through the years, which is very important with an older power plant.

"We have to keep our plant in good working condition because we can't afford to build a new plant," said Teaney.

The boilers have to be "tuned up" every two years since the plant falls under the EPA's greenhouse gas rules. Other challenges Teaney and his employees face is the removal of the ash from the boilers and finding a use for it.

He said most of the ash, whether it is wet or dry, is used in the construction industry for filler and some is used on farms as a product similar to lime.

Teaney said that even with the challenges, there is much satisfaction in knowing Northwest is burning a renewable product and saving money because of it.

"It's satisfying to know we are saving money and using a product that is renewable. The students are even aware of what we are doing and that is satisfying too," he said.

Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at

Date: 3/4/2013


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