Local wind, biomass, and solar energy facilities do more than generate power—they double as sophisticated research and teaching tools. And they give other communities and institutions a chance to see how these new technologies work.
At Morris, students collaborate with faculty and staff on research opportunities in fields such as food production, biofuel crops, renewable energy economics, biomass gasification, solar energy production, prairie ecology, wind energy co-products, climate change and forest ecology, and many more.
Currently, 70 percent of the Morris campus’s electrical needs are met by wind.
Two 1.65 megawatt wind turbines overlook the Pomme de Terre river near campus. The first wind turbine was funded by the University of Minnesota's Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), which provided nearly $4 million for renewable energy research and demonstration at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) and Morris campus. The second turbine began generating power on March 26, 2011. The new structure stands 1,600 feet south of the WCROC turbine on city of Morris land. It is 10 meters taller and the combined output of both turbines will provide an average of 70 percent of campus electricity. On good wind days, that statistic could climb as high as 100 percent.
The WCROC wind turbine…
- is the first commercial-scale research wind turbine at a U.S. public university;
- is operated by WCROC;
- generates 5.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year;
- sits atop a 230-foot tower and has three 135-foot blades;
- produces electricity at wind speeds as low as 7.8 miles per hour and maximum electricity at wind speeds of 29 miles per hour;
- powers WCROC’s wind-to-hydrogen-to-ammonia pilot plant.
In April 2005, the Minnesota Legislature approved a bonding bill that allocated $6 million to construct a unique biomass gasification research and energy production facility that will displace more than 80 percent of the campus’s fossil fuel usage, primarily natural gas. This biomass gasification facility will use locally available biomass residues such as corn stover, wheat straw, soybean residue, wood residue, and mixed prairie grasses as a source of carbon. We are working with the scientific community to address long-term questions related to soil health and sustainability. The gasification platform will also be responsible for meeting the cooling load of our campus and will dramatically reduce our electricity demand. Additionally, this gasification platform will produce green electrons through a renewable combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant.
The biomass gasifier…
- consumes about 9,000 tons of corn residue and prairie grass biofuels per year, harvested from farms within a 20-mile radius of Morris;
- is designed to gasify a variety of agricultural fuels including wood, perennial grasses, and crop residues;
- avoids 8,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year;
- generates 19 million BTUs of heat energy per hour at peak capacity;
- injects about $500,000 per year back into the local economy through the purchase of crop residues;
- will create up to 10 new jobs.
At the campus’s Regional Fitness Center, locally manufactured solar thermal panels collect the sun’s energy to heat swimming pool water. A solar photovoltaic system on the south side of the Science building converts sunlight into electricity.
The solar thermal array…
- consists of 32 flat panel solar energy collectors;
- heats water for the recreational swimming pool;
- avoids about 30,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions per year.