A-Z Index

Utilization of Alternative Fuels

Northwest Missouri State University is a comprehensive, coeducation, state-assisted, regional university. Northwest is a leader in its field as a result of a systematic, sustainable culture that is embedded throughout the organization. Known as the "Culture of Quality," it has been continuously adapted for more than 20 years and has consistently produced high levels of performance, providing Northwest a key competitive advantage.

Northwest's primary focus is undergraduate education, which includes 42 hours of general education plus a major and minor. It offers 141 undergraduate majors, 44 master's programs, 3 specialist's degrees, and a cooperative doctorate in Educational Leadership. Programs in business, education, geography and agriculture graduate the largest number of students each year. Northwest also houses the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing, which is an on-campus, accelerated learning program for exceptional high school juniors and seniors.

With more than 7,000 students enrolled, Northwest sits on a 370-acre campus containing 70 major buildings and support structures consisting of more than 2.3 million square feet of building and support space. The university is located in the northwest corner of Missouri in Maryville, a community of about 11,000 residents. We also operate educational centers in St. Joseph and Kansas City, Mo.; a 448-acre laboratory farm two miles north of campus; and a 315-acre rural lakefront tract of land designed for student and community educational/recreational activities. We continuously improve our facilities following a comprehensive master plan and have invested more than $200 million in renovations during the past 15 years to meet the changing needs of our students and stakeholders. A combination of historical and innovative facilities and operations allows Northwest to respect and honor our traditions while adjusting to a rapidly changing environment.

Reducing the University's dependence on petroleum-based fuels (natural gas and heating oil) has been a goal for more than 25 years. Beginning in 1982, choice of fuels incrementally shifted to alternative materials - wood chips (1982), pelletized paper (1992) and animal waste blended with dry feedstocks (2001) - from sources found in Missouri and adjacent states. After 25 years of operation, approximately $12.5 million in savings has resulted from the use of alternative fuel sources as compared to purchasing natural gas and oil. These savings have been reallocated into the University's instructional programs and provided a portion of the funding needed to bring faculty, administrative, professional and support staff salaries to market-based levels.

In the mid-1970s the price of natural gas and No. 5 heating oil were projected to increase in excess of 20 percent annually. The University administration was concerned about whether state appropriations would keep pace with these spiraling energy costs. After a two-week period of subzero temperatures in the winter of 1977-78 on the heals of the energy shortage crisis, the utility company shut off the natural gas supply to the university. This occurred because the university is categorized as an interruptible customer with a lower supply priority than residential customers during fuel shortages. The campus community hung by a thread, as it waited for an oil tanker truck to make the 600-mile trip from Memphis, Tenn., with the fuel needed to supply the campus energy needs for two weeks, during which time temperatures hovered below zero. There had to be a solution to reduce the University's dependence on petroleum-based energy sources.

To guide its search for what would become a major cultural shift in how the university met its energy needs, Northwest used the following criteria to choose an alternative source of energy:

  • Availability of a large, diverse supply of energy resources
  • Environmentally safe and compatible with existing systems
  • Minimal effect on campus aesthetics
  • Contributes to conservation of fossil fuels
  • Represents a truly renewable energy source
  • Convenient storage and access
  • Constructed from off-the-shelf equipment and hardware
  • Requires minimal operator training
  • Enhances the quality of life for regional constituents
  • Potential for significant cost savings
  • Provides for redundancy and diversity of energy sources
  • Decreases Missouri's out-of-state energy dependence

After a period of investigation, Northwest determined wood chips, a by-product of the wood products industry, were suitable as an alternative fuel source. The University developed an implementation plan, secured necessary private funding through a $2 million conditional lease and embarked on its path toward energy self-sufficiency.

Northwest harvests no trees to supply fuel utilized by its power plant. Only wood waste naturally generated as a result of the manufacturing processes developed by the forest products industry is used. Large quantities of wood waste are generated by the forest products industry for which disposal is a problem. The university's need for wood chips created a new market for a waste by-product of the forest products industry. With an economic incentive to satisfy the university's demand, a growing number of wood chip suppliers went into business providing a variety of new jobs for citizens in the region.

In 1983, the wood plant operation earned the Energy Conservation Resource Steward Award for the State of Missouri. In 1984, the U.S. Department of Energy proclaimed the wood plant operation an outstanding example of the use of renewable energy sources. In 1985, the Missouri governor recognized Northwest with an Award for Energy Innovation. Other innovative ideas have been implemented at Northwest to support the community and expand the utilization of alternative fuel sources.

In 1990, the Missouri General Assembly passed Senate Bill 530 which targeted a 40 percent reduction in the amount of waste accepted by state landfills and created geographic waste districts to develop plans to carry out this mandate. The city of Maryville landfill serves a five-county region of northwest Missouri. Together with the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments and the city, the university conducted a study with the intent of implementing a plan to meet this waste reduction mandate.

Discarded newspaper, corrugated and cardboard boxes, magazines, and other clean paper products flooded the recycling market in the early 1990s. Transporting these items from the landfill operated by the city of Maryville to regional recycling centers more than 100 miles away proved to cost more than the proceeds received from their sale. The Maryville landfill has a finite capacity and by law when that capacity is reached, the city will be required to close the landfill permanently. Landfill closure costs and higher trash disposal fees would affect Maryville residents and residents of the five counties served by the landfill.

The university conducted a pilot study to determine the financial feasibility of pelletizing clean paper products and burning them in the university energy system. The study found it is economically sound to pelletize and the energy generated from the pellets provides the BTU values needed to heat and cool the campus. The decision was made to divert the clean waste paper formerly deposited in the landfill to the university for conversion into dense pellets as a source of energy. The university retrofitted a boiler to accommodate paper pellets, constructed a building and purchased equipment to produce paper pellets and established a comprehensive campus-wide recycling program. Simultaneously, an educational program was developed by the Northwest Missouri Regional Council of Governments to encourage regional citizens to separate their recyclable products from other waste materials. Trash haulers worked with the city to develop a collection and delivery plan for transporting residential, business and industrial paper and other recyclable products to the recycling center at the Maryville landfill.

This cooperative effort contributed significantly to the extension of the life of the Maryville landfill. Removal of the combination of recyclable materials (glass, plastics, tin, aluminum, tires and paper) extended the life of the landfill by 7.5 years thereby postponing the $350,000 to $400,000 per acre in capital expenditure necessary for acquiring additional permitted landfill space.

In 1997 Northwest received the 4th Annual Governor's Pollution Prevention Award. In 2000, industry association awards were received, including the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) 2000 Environmental Award and the Missouri Recycling Association (MORA) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Waste Minimization and Recycling. Regrettably for financial reasons, the city landfill stopped accepting waste in April 2002 and become a transfer station. However, the university has continued to accept clean paper from trash haulers, local residents and companies, and the campus community for fuel pellets.

Northwest continues to explore alternative fuel sources for its campus energy needs and to further contribute to the recovery of waste in the region. Beginning in 1996, the university studied the availability of common non-hazardous fuel feedstocks in northwest Missouri. Once it was determined that sufficient amounts of recoverable waste existed, the financial and practical feasibility of pelletizing a variety of potential biomass such as: warm season grasses, animal waste, non-hazardous industry waste, and other fuel feedstocks was studied. As a result of this research, the university determined biomass sources acquired from industrial and agribusiness feedstocks can be produced into a pellet with high BTU value and cleanly combusted. These additional sources were expected to help the campus reach its goal of 80-85 percent alternative fuel usage.

Using its own internal funds, the university built a $700,000 addition onto its existing pellet processing facility, known as the Biomass Processing Center. Using funds from the Missouri Department of Economic Development through MAMTC-Missouri, equipment was purchased to add a second production line dedicated to producing biomass fuels from a variety of agricultural and agribusiness waste resources. A newly designed swine facility and dairy operation were built at the university farm adjacent to the poultry facility where the waste from these operations is separated into liquid and solid components, mixing the solids with dry agricultural feedstocks, and transporting the virtually odor-free dry mixture to the processing facility for pelletization into an energy fuel source. The university acquired United States Patent No. 6,49,694 for this "animal waste to energy production" process in November 2000. In 2001, it received the top rank of "Environmental Friendliness" by the National Wildlife Federation.

Although not required by any state or local ordinance, Northwest recycles paper, cardboard, aluminum, plastic, tin, used printer cartridges, rechargeable batteries, wood chips and feedstock. Moreover, this practice is not just the result of administrative direction. It also has been enthusiastically embraced by the student body. For the past four years starting in 2004-05, Northwest students have competed with students from other colleges and universities across the nation in a program called "RecycleMania," finishing fourth, fifth, seventh and second, respectively, in the rate of recycling of waste paper per person. The most important aspect of Northwest's recycling program, however, is its use of wood chips, paper, cardboard and feedstock as alternatives to petroleum-based fuels in the operation of its own heating and cooling systems.

By using wood chips, paper pellets and pellets from animal waste, Northwest has been meeting 80 to 85 percent of its energy needs without reliance on petroleum-based fuels. Not only has its recycling program and use of alternative fuels established Northwest as a leader in environmental stewardship, the alternative fuels program has saved the state of Missouri approximately $12.5 million that it would otherwise have had to appropriate to cover Northwest's fuel costs during the past 25 years.

Increasingly, rural communities are withering away partly because of their lack of access to resources, thriving businesses, and partly because of the cost of keeping a small community running. The cost of waste management is becoming a larger part of the total cost. The vitality of rural America depends on wise use of available resources and employment opportunities within the community. Most of these communities could derive great benefits from technological innovation that allows them to reduce or eliminate those costs.

Northwest Missouri State University is located in and serves rural northwest Missouri and consequently has a vested interest in the vitality of the surrounding region - rural America. For 25 years it has been the university's goal to demonstrate a bio-energy use model that is flexible enough to fit almost any situation whether it is rural or urban. In the region there is a strong interest in diverting other non-hazardous waste products from the waste stream deposited into landfills which will further extend their life capacity and will provide additional forms of waste for conversion into energy.

With fluctuating electrical energy prices, the university believes it is wise to expand its system to include the ability to generate electricity through non-hazardous, biodegradable waste. Northwest's vision is to establish a Graduate Applied Research Center in its Dean L. Hubbard Center for Innovation to provide:

  • A site for Northwest students to apply what they learn in the classroom.
  • Serve as a demonstration facility where regional businesses and municipalities can bring samples of their non-hazardous waste materials for evaluation.

Research will study future options such as small-scale electrical generation capacity. The generator might be powered by gasifying bio-fuels and then combusting those gases in a turbine. Another option may be utilization of the latest in digestion technology using organic material to produce methane, carbon dioxide and other valuable products. The first phase of this process will be to assess and then install the chosen technologies in actual application. Assuming they prove to be technically and economically feasible, these technologies would be designed and demonstrated to allow them to be applied in virtually any situation regardless of scale or location. The final result would be a multifaceted model capable of demonstrating to the public a broad range of technologies that can make use of a large array of waste materials to produce energy and valuable marketable chemicals while at the same time reducing the amount of useful resources lost to rapidly dwindling landfill space.

These efforts and future plans exemplify the university's commitment to resource recovery, energy conservation and preservation of air, water and land quality and dedication to serving as a responsible member of our regional community.

The university has shown a simple model can produce positive results. Its alternative energy system is not high tech. It uses ordinary everyday equipment that can be found almost anywhere. Not every potential user can make efficient use of steam for heating and cooling. Therefore, the University has an interest in establishing a model of bio-energy use that has as its core the current system but adds additional new and diversified components to make it complete.