When the Chips are Gasified

Demonstration project produces green energy from yard waste
By Holly Jessen | February 22, 2012

Naperville, Ill., population 145,000, has found a way to turn sticks and leaves picked up during its annual brush collection into power and fuel for its municipal fleet. The city, which is located 28 miles west of Chicago, is part of a demonstration project to create electricity, hydrogen and ethanol from wood chips. “It will become a model for municipalities across the country to use biomass residue to power fleet vehicles,” according to information on the city’s website. “These carbon-neutral fuels are produced from landscape materials which currently cost the city money to remove.”

A gasifier developed by Packer Engineering has been installed at Naperville’s Green Fuels Depot. It will process about 1 ton of wood chips daily and has the capacity to power 12 to 15 suburban homes. The electricity produced will be used to power the system, supply electricity to the city-owned utility’s power grid and power plug-in hybrid vehicles. The system can also divert a portion of the energy produced to make hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles or ethanol for flex-fuel vehicles.

Primary funding for the project is from the U.S. DOE, secured thanks to efforts of U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill. Packer Engineering, a engineering consulting business with multiple research efforts in the alternative energy field, and the city of Naperville are contributing to the project though temporary use of land and buildings as well as manpower. Argonne National Laboratory, which is developing a process to produce ethanol through gasification, is also a partner in the project.

The Green Fuels Depot is expected to create jobs, save money for the city and reduce pollution. Similar systems could be used in cities with 7,000 or more single family dwellings, the city said. —Holly Jessen