ISU Testing Biomass/Coal Blend to Reduce Emissions

Joanna Schroeder

In a recent article published in Inside Iowa State (ISU), researchers are looking into the replacement of some coal with wood pellets. The biomass is being studied as an additive to coal, to reduce it’s carbon footprint. Beginning on July 15, 2010, two coal-fired boilers located on the ISU campus, began to burn wood pellets as part of a series of tests that utilities staff are conducting over several weeks. The tests will help officials assess the feasibility of replacing some coal with biomass, which is considered a cleaner fuel source, according to Jeff Witt, assistant director of utilities.

“We’re doing this to see what other alternative energy sources are feasible,” he said. “We’ll be assessing both the environmental and economic impacts of using these sources.”

The first test will involve a mix of 10 percent wood pellets with 90 percent coal. In a recent test the mix was 5 percent wood pellets to 95 percent coal. The researchers have approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to test up to a 20 percent wood pellet blend. The study is estimated to take three months with air emissions one of the major components of the project.

The wood being used in the tests is from Colorado pine trees that have been decimated by pine beetles. For more than a decade, pine beetles have been attacking the trees and currently in Colorado and Wyoming, more than 3 million acres of trees have been lost.

One of the drawbacks of using wood pellets is the expense – nearly double the cost of coal – according to Witt. He notes, however, that like other technologies, long-term contracts and the maturity of a technology will lower the costs.

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