Wood waste market research could benefit Illinois business

The U.S. Forestry Service (USFS) is working with ­sustainability experts at the University of Illinois, Western Illinois University (WIU), and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus to investigate the use of wood waste by businesses as a cheaper and renewable source of heat energy.

An estimated nine million tons of renewable wood in Illinois could be ­utilized to displace the use of petroleum-based propane. Wood can be a less expensive ­alternative. USDA, which oversees the USFS, is particularly ­emphasizing wood fuel derived from wood debris from national forests in Illinois.

A USFS matching grant of $249,328 will allow the U of I’s Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), WIU’s Illinois Value-Added Sustainable Development Center (VASDC) and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) to evaluate wood as an alternative to propane for heating in the Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production ­sector in Illinois.

The two-year project will examine scientific, ­economic and cultural aspects that would support the expansion of wood energy markets based on low-value wood residues. The project’s goals are to: (1) promote the use of wood to displace the propane currently used for space ­heating within the Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production sector in Illinois, and (2) evaluate the ­compatibility of grain farming and animal production facilities, care facilities, correctional centers, schools, ­universities, etc. with the use of wood as fuel.

The team will build on an ongoing UIUC/ISTC ­project funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation that has found pelletized prairie grasses, grown on roadside right-of way areas, can be successfully used as fuel for ­heating while simultaneously offering economic and environ­mental benefits.

“This collaboration integrates expertise in business,

technology, marketing, education, and outreach aimed at a

focused goal,” explained Principal Investigator Nandakishore

Rajagopalan. “We will start with the Greenhouse, Nursery

and Floriculture sector in Illinois (the 12th largest in the

nation) to stimulate stable growth in the wood fuel market.”