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Wasted Wood, Corncobs, Hay Help Keep the Lights On at Mizzou

Oct. 11, 2007

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, (573) 882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri-Columbia’s power plant will replace up to five percent of its coal supply this year with biomass consisting of wood chips, saving more than 7,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in a single year. Working with MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, MU Extension, College of Engineering, and local industries, the power plant is finding better and more efficient energy sources.

The 7,000 tons of waste wood chips that will be burned this year will lower the plant fuel costs.  Additionally, emissions will be reduced by approximately four percent; ash will be reduced by more than 220 tons. Since the wood chip supplier is much closer to the MU Power Plant than the coal supplier, the switch to wood chips also will eliminate more than 90,000 trucking miles.

The MU power plant currently has a two-year permit to burn the wood chips, but officials hope to make the pilot project permanent in the future and possibly increase the use of wood chips and other biomass.

“Our biomass development program at MU will continue to evolve over time based on the availability of viable biomass fuels,” said Gregg Coffin, superintendent of the power plant. “The MU power plant is doing this solely on a voluntary basis. There are no regulations that tell us that we have to start using biomass. Using biomass reduces the plant's fuel costs, and it improves the environment.”

Not only is the wasted wood plentiful, but it also is available year round from several nearby sources. Wood chips are currently being purchased from Missouri Mulch in New Florence, Mo., a subsidiary of Independent Stave. Run by MU alumnae, Independent Stave is the world’s largest supplier of barrels for the wine and whiskey industry. When the barrels are created, excess wood is left over. This wood waste is chipped to a size that can be used in MU's power plant.

Researchers continue to look for other earth-friendly and cost-effective biomass material beyond wood chips. Other biomass materials that have been tested as fuel sources for the power plant are switchgrass, or hay, and corn cobs. 

“We've developed a great partnership over the past couple of years with our campus researchers and are actively working together to develop viable biomass fuels for Missouri,” Coffin said. “Testing and demonstrating biomass fuels this past year have been interesting and beneficial. We've learned enough to determine what we need to do to make renewable biomass a regular fuel to support the campus energy needs.” 

The MU power plant provides service to more than 13 million square feet of facilities. While campus space has grown by almost 60 percent since 1990, energy use has been reduced by 19 percent thanks to significant energy conservation efforts.  This is especially significant because much of the new space has been energy intensive research space.