The Potential for Fuel Switching to Wood in Illinois - A Sector Study

ISTC’s Kishore Rajagopalan has teamed up with colleagues at Western Illinois University and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to promote the use of waste wood instead of propane for heating in buildings in Illinois. This project specifically targets the Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production sector which has significant space heating needs. The project also aims to evaluate the compatibility of grain farming and animal production facilities, care facilities, correctional centers, schools, universities, etc. with the use of waste wood as a fuel source for space heating.

Case Study

Initial inquiries to perform a pilot study for this project were sent out to the greenhouse network list in Illinois. A nursery (Alexis, IL) responded and the project team worked closely with them to develop an alternative heating method for a greenhouse, workshop and their residence using biomass. The combined area of all the three buildings was nearly 3,400 square feet.

The team performed a rigorous technical evaluation with Wilson Engineering Services (PA) of the heating requirements for the three spaces using weather data along with procedures from Manual J, ASHRAE, and the Midwest Plan Services Structures and Environment Handbook as needed. Actual electric bill were used to estimate the residential heating needs (Figure 1). Following the evaluation, the team did a preliminary engineering design and cost estimation for implementing a wood based heating system using various feedstocks (cordwood, wood chips, wood pellets, and saw dust). In addition, the nursery was also interested in a hydronic floor heating system and this, too, was designed and cost estimates were obtained. The cost savings of using wood-based fuel in comparison to propane were calculated (Figure 2) along with the return on investment (including capital costs). The project team is currently moving forward by assisting the nursery in writing a grant to the USDA-REAP program to obtain federal money to defray a part of the capital cost of the equipment.

Figure 1: Actual heating data from the nursery.

left to right: cord wood - $2945/year; wood chips - $3041/year; wood pellets - $1005/year; saw dust - $3408/year

Figure 2: Cost saving in dollars ($) per year from having a biomass heating unit compared to propane.

Want to Participate?

Rajagopalan and his team are seeking participants interested in utilizing wood-fueled systems for space heating (e.g., greenhouses, livestock sheds, storage spaces, workshops) and other end-use applications such as grain drying and hot water generation.

Benefits to selected participants include assistance with project scoping, engineering, and financial analysis. Participants with proposals costing less than $10,000 could be provided direct cash assistance while larger-value proposals will be provided in-kind support for engineering design, and grant preparation. As seen in the case study discussed above, similar analysis packages will be provided to any participants interested in biomass heating for their building/greenhouses.