In the spirit of self sufficiency, economy, environmental stewardship and investigative research, the design team worked with the University of Minnesota Morris to develop a Biomass Research and Demonstration Facility to serve campus-wide energy needs, utilizing leading-edge renewable resources.
The biomass plant addition to an existing energy plant represents the university system’s foray into sustainable fuel sourcing. Capitalizing on the surrounding agrarian economy, local bio-waste (primarily in the form of corn stover) is processed for fuel consumption. The plant essentially converts corn stalks and other residual materials into a syngas—similar to natural gas—which can be burned to produce clean energy to generate heat and cooling for the campus.
The addition is integrated with the campus’s existing energy plant to improve its overall reliability in both the steam and chilled-water systems. The building is comprised of two primary components:
A fuel handling, processing and gasification reactor. A more conventional boiler plant that feeds into the existing campus system. The Biomass plant addition is intended to maintain the integrity of the original 1970 AIA Award winning building while establishing its own aesthetic vocabulary, symbolically highlighting the difference between traditional energy sources and new energy sources. A simple cube clad in cedar contrasts with the angular form of the original plant’s brick-clad sloping roof. In deference to the original, this delineation between old and new helps retain the architectural integrity of the earlier building—a strong example of industrial utilitarian architecture that displays its infrastructure proudly.
The design team chose cedar siding for its conceptual relationship to the agrarian context, other historic campus buildings, and sustainable values. The wood siding further recalls the striking wood ceiling in the original structure, linking a major component of the old to the new.
Because this is both an energy plant and a demonstration facility in renewable-energy resources, the team created an architecture of transparency, in which much of the mechanical infrastructure is visible through metal screening and wood slats.
The facility meets approximately 80 percent of the campus demand for heat, using up to 9,000 tons of corn stover each year for fuel. This will keep approximately $500,000 in the local economy and reduce green house gas emissions associated with heating the campus by approximately the same 9,000 tons per year. Combining this biomass technology, with wind turbines already in place, and a small back pressure steam turbine that will be driven from the gasification system, the campus is on track to being carbon neutral and a national model of sustainable energy use.
Client Quote “We picked the team for its experience and leadership. [The team] has done an excellent job leading the process. Planning a project that can be funded and operated economically can be a tough challenge, especially when there is a research component. The recommended solution brings operations and research together in a practical way with an architecture that highlights the unique nature of this project.” —Chuck Koncker, University of Minnesota Morris Project Manager