The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota (UND) has conducted two tests at the university’s steam plant using five tons of sunflower hulls from agricultural processing facilities mixed with 15 tons of coal to produce heat for the campus.

Darren Schmidt, the EERC research manager who heads the project, says if the tests show that burning sunflower hulls with coal is technically and economically feasible, UND might seriously consider burning the hulls regularly and that by replacing just 20% of the coal it uses each

year with sunflower hulls, the university could save up to $100,000 annually.

Schmidt also says that the environmental benefits of using sunflower hulls can be significant by significantly reducing harmful pollutants released by coal burning. Additionally, because agricultural processing waste is often disposed of in landfills, using it as a source of renewable energy can help reduce the burden on landfills.

Schmidt said that as part of the project, a variety of biomass fuels were considered for use in the UND steam plant, but sunflower hulls were considered the most promising because they were economical, more environmentally friendly and easier to handle.

“We are leading the nation in addressing many of the challenges facing the widespread use of biomass fuels,” says EERC Director Gerald Groenewold. “Biomass will be critical for meeting future energy demand and achieving the goals of green initiatives launched by federal and state governments.”

The EERC is conducting a similar demonstration at the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck where waste wood and North Dakota lignite coal will fire a boiler providing energy to the state facility.

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