By Tom Larson
About 200 people attended the dedication of the University of Minnesota, Morris biomass facility Friday on the UMM campus.
The day also included a lunch and tours of the biomass plant and the wind turbine at the West Central Research and Outreach Center.
A number of community and UMM leaders and area lawmakers spoke during the outdoor ceremony near the plant adjacent to the campus' heating and cooling plant.
The goal is to make less and less use of that plant to heat and cool the campus, and further research on biomass sustainability between UMM, the WCROC and the ARS Soils Lab.
"The future is here," said Abdullah Jaradat, Soils Lab Research Leader, pointing toward the biomass facility. "The future is green, and hopefully it's sustainable."
The biomass plant is a model for community-based energy systems. The gasification system will use about 9,000 tons of biomass per year to offset roughly 80 percent of UMM's fossil fuel usage.
Combined with the three-year-old wind turbine, which is producing about 60 percent of UMM's power, the campus is well on its way to its stated goal of being carbon neutral and energy independent by 2010, UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson said.
Other universities are also adopting green and sustainable technologies and practices, but UMM is the standard bearer, she said.
"No other school is putting things together quite the way we are," Johnson said. "We have a lot to be proud of."
Energy sources like corn stover and prairie grasses will be purchased from area farmers and producers so that not only will the biomass plant be heating and cooling the campus, the research project will be putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the regional economy, creating new employment opportunities, Johnson said.
UMM officials call it a "green collar" economy for West Central Minnesota.
U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson stated in a letter commemorating the dedication that "this facility will serve as a model for communities and campuses everywhere. A green economy offers and exciting and profitable future for communities."
The project received one of 12 energy grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy totalling $1.89 million to conduct additional research.
The grant is the largest received by the Morris campus and allowed UMM, WCROC and the Soils Lab to conduct research on carbon sequestration. The total project cost is almost $9 million, which includes grant money.