An estimated half a million tons of renewable wood available in Illinois could be used to displace the use of petroleum-based propane. Wood can be a less-expensive alternative to propane. With a U.S. Forestry Service matching grant of $249,328, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at UIUC is leading a broad technical and economic analysis of developing a market for waste wood in collaboration with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at WIU.
“This collaboration integrates expertise in business, technology, marketing, education and outreach aimed at a focused goal. We will start with the greenhouse, nursery and floriculture sector in Illinois (the 12th largest in the nation) as a starting point to test the market appetite for replacing propane with wood,” said Dr. Kishore Rajagopalan, ISTC’s associate director and the project’s principal investigator.
Switching to biomass fuel has its pros and cons for some and identifying them is the thrust of the project. “Cost-wise, it should be a cinch because propane is much more expensive than wood, but there are other reasons why people may or may not want to go the wood route. One of them could be logistics- the handling of the details of an operation such as transportation, storing and loading/unloading, and they may not want to do that,” Dr. Rajagopalan said.
Focusing first on the greenhouse and nursery industry, the researchers are working to gather data to evaluate the feasibility of fuel switching. “For greenhouse operations, a lower cost source of heat energy could offer the benefit of an extended growing operation” said Dr. Sriraam Chandrasekaran, Lead Research Engineer on the team. The center has previously conducted a number of studies on the use of biomass for energy and other products such as bio-oil, biochar and specialty chemicals such as antioxidant additives.
The project also aims to expand the study to evaluate the compatibility of waste wood fuel for heating in animal production facilities, care facilities, correctional centers, and schools.
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Illinois Sustainable Technology Center