Cornell Unveils Campus Renewable Bioenergy Initiative

In a new Cornell University campus initiative, vegetable oil from dining hall fryers, animal bedding from campus barns, farm waste from university research, and other sources of biotrash will be transformed into fuels – for use on campus.

According to a March 6 press release, the Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative (CURBI) is an ambitious plan to use campus biomass resources to generate bioenergy. CURBI is a key component for the university's Advanced Sustainability Action Plan and the Cornell Climate Action Plan – and may one day become a model at the state and national level.

"CURBI represents a new chapter in Cornell's efforts to promote a sustainable environment," said Stephen T. Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration. In addition to the operations and research-based facility, it will be used for teaching and outreach to showcase cutting-edge technologies, such as slow pyrolysis, which decomposes dense material by chemicals and heat, generates energy and a valuable soil additive called biochar. (When added to the soil, biochar sequesters carbon, making it the only renewable energy technology that actually removes carbon from the atmosphere and buries it. This process is being researched by Johannes Lehmann, Cornell professor of soils and crops.)

A feasibility study – funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in partnership with Cornell and launched in January by the engineering firm Stearns and Wheler – is assessing the engineering, economic, and environmental viability of pyrolysis and other technologies being considered for CURBI.

CURBI will look at anaerobic digestion, high-efficiency direct combustion and other "stackable" renewable energy technologies, so that waste products from one system can be used by another. This would increase the overall efficiency of the systems and make using biomass even more attractive. Michael Hoffmann, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station director in Ithaca, notes that CURBI's harvest of energy from on-hand resources at Cornell's many operations – including some 8,000 tons of organic waste that is generated by the university annually – could be a model for a larger scale.

CURBI involves faculty and staff from departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Office, and the Department of Utilities and Energy Management.