Biomass Profile – Eastern Illinois University

May 19, 2016

Burning wood chips saves 6.2 million kWh annually.

How would you like to save 6.2 million kWh annually while using a renewable fuel source? Take a cue from the Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and its Renewable Energy Center. In operation since 2011, this biomass facility has reduced energy use by 50% and carbon emissions by 80% over the old coal-fired plant. The plant is expected to generate $140 million dollars in savings over the next 20 years.

When the original 1928 power facility was at the end of its life, the university took the opportunity to find a more sustainable replacement. Partnering with Honeywell International, an $80 million performance contract secured the necessary funds for the new plant. By rerouting the savings from other campus-wide efficiency projects, this funding option ensured that neither students nor taxpayers would bear the costs.

With a price tag around $55 million, Eastern’s Renewable Energy Center houses four boilers. Two burn biomass, such as wood chips and switchgrass, and the others use natural gas with a fuel oil backup. EIU’s campus energy needs can be met by running any two of the four boilers.

The system uses gasification technology, which is a two-stage combustion process. Fuel is first heated to a high temperature in a low-oxygen environment, which creates synthetic natural gas. The gas is then captured and combined with additional oxygen to combust just like natural gas. This is a much cleaner burning process compared to coal burning, with only about 5% efficiency lost compared to the traditional natural gas process.

The plant is also designed for fuel flexibility through its gasifiers. With a traditional combustion boiler, the fuel sources must generally be the same in moisture, size and density. Because it isn’t a direct combustion facility, these gasifiers can accept more variations in the fuel source.

A unique feature is that one of the biomass boilers, a high-pressure unit, feeds into a back-pressure steam turbine to generate electricity as a byproduct. By doing this, the university gets its electricity in the neighborhood of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour as opposed to the university rate of 7 cents or the traditional utility rate of 11 cents.

The Renewable Energy Center is the first solid fuel power plant registered with USGBC and earned LEED Platinum for New Construction.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...