US university plants trees for own biomass

An American university has hit upon one way to get its own supply of biomass – by planting its own orchard of trees. Michigan State University (pictured, MSU’s engineering building) has […]

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By Vicky Ellis

An American university has hit upon one way to get its own supply of biomass – by planting its own orchard of trees.

Michigan State University (pictured, MSU’s engineering building) has planted the first of six, 10-acre plots of hybrid poplar trees for its on-site power plant. The planting is part of the university’s goal to move toward 100% renewable energy.

The institution’s power plant produces 1.7% of its energy needs by using untreated wood chips. Only one of the four boilers at the power plant is equipped to burn wood chips. The remaining three can only burn fuel such as coal.

Researchers at MSU will use a process called ‘torrefaction’ to create a material called torrefied biomass that is suitable for boilers. Torrefaction takes place when a plant material is roasted to eliminate moisture and unstable chemicals, according to MSU. These chemicals can then be burned to power the process. The result is a concentrated material that can be transported and burned like coal.

About 300 tons of the torrefied biomass is scheduled to be pulverized in the power plant’s burners in 2013. If test burns are successful, torrefied biomass will replace a fraction of MSU’s coal use as early as 2014.