Auburn University and Fultondale working on plan to convert ‘green’ waste into electricity

AUBURN – A new environmental partnership in Alabama could provide municipalities a way to convert their “green” waste into energy while reducing the amount sent to landfills.

Auburn University is collaborating with the City of Fultondale, Alabama Power Company and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to develop a plan for using the city’s green waste – such as trees, tree limbs, leaves and grass clippings – as a source of clean, renewable energy.

“Fultondale, like other communities, sends tons of green waste to the city landfill each year,” said Steve Taylor, director of Auburn’s Center for Bioenergy and Bioproducts. “By using innovative gasification technology available through Auburn University, those limbs and branches could be used to power as many as 500 homes. The first step is making sure the process can be carried out in a manner that is cost effective.”

Auburn researchers are using the university’s Mobile Biomass Gasification Unit to help evaluate converting Fultondale’s green waste, or biomass, into electricity. The gasification unit, mounted on a tractor-trailer vehicle, is cosponsored by Alabama Power Company, which provides funds to support travel throughout the region to explore new energy opportunities.

Gasification is a thermochemical process in which heat and oxygen break down biomass into a synthesis gas that contains hydrogen and carbon monoxide, both of which are flammable gases. This synthesis gas can be used as a fuel in engines and turbines that power electrical generators.

Researchers from Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences will install GPS tracking devices on Fultondale city trucks that collect biomass and will record the amount of material delivered to the landfill. They will combine this information with aerial and satellite images of the city to refine computer models for predicting the amount of biomass that will be generated by the city throughout the year.

At the same time, researchers in Auburn’s Department of Biosystems Engineering will be analyzing the material for the amount of energy and ash that it contains and its suitability for large-scale gasification systems.

“This information will be used to develop projections for the cost of implementing a system for biomass gasification and electrical power generation,” Taylor said.

Fultondale is one of several Alabama communities in the Auburn Energy Partners Program using a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Other communities participating in various projects include Gadsden, Enterprise and Henry County.

A demonstration of the use of renewable energy is being held Wednesday and Thursday, May 6-7, at the Fultondale Target store at 3489 Lowery Parkway. The setup includes the Mobile Biomass Gasification Unit as well as Auburn’s Emergency Housing Solution, a large shipping container converted into an emergency shelter that is being powered by the gasification unit at the event.

Students in Auburn’s Design-Build Masters Program built the emergency structure that would be beneficial after natural disasters, such as hurricanes, by using fallen trees to help power temporary housing for disaster victims or the relief effort’s operations centers. The structure also is designed with alternate hookups for grid utilities so it could use municipal water and power if available.

(Written by Charles Martin.)

Contacts: Leslie Parsons (334) 844-6147, (leslie@auburn.edu), or
Charles Martin (334) 844-9999, (marticd@auburn.edu)