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A new market beset by delays, ready to fire up

James Barbour, with the University of Minnesota, Morris, attempts to ignite gasses emitted by a model gasifier during a demonstration of the technology at the Helen and Don Berheim farm north of Benson. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MORRIS -- A gasifier that will use farm biomass to provide the steam heat needed for 80 percent of the heating needs on the University of Minnesota Morris campus is about one or two weeks from its start-up, according to James Barbour, director of plant services.

The gasifier had been troubled with operation problems during its planned start-up last year.

Once it starts, the new system will be creating a demand for 7,000 to 9,000 tons of corn stover each year, or its equivalent.

Prairie grasses are one of the biomass fuels being tested since they are more energy dense than stover, according to Barbour. He spoke at the Helen and Don Berheim farm north of Benson on Thursday.

Barbour demonstrated how the gasifier system converts biomass into a gas that can be used in place of natural gas.

Prairie grasses harvested from a wetland managed by the Department of Natural Resources were used to fuel his model gasifier. The DNR is conducting studies to determine if mowing can replace burning in some cases to manage grasslands and still provide the desired wildlife benefits.

Barbour said "biomass is local'' and keeps money otherwise spent for fuels imported from elsewhere within the community.

He said the new gasifier has shown that biomass needs to be densified into pellets or some other form to work. Pellets provide more energy by volume, their flow as fuel can be better managed, and their quality kept uniform during storage.

The University's move to biomass energy will also help assess the economics of using local green energy.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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