March 13, 2007

Grass-Burning Stove Reduces Energy Use

Print More

Although people typically do not think of burning grass as a way to save the environment, that is exactly what the Big Red Barn is doing as part of Cornell’s effort to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Cornell is joining other universities across the country in making an effort to help the environment. One recent project includes the installation of a grass-burning stove in the Big Red Barn, which burns grass pellets.

Prof. Jerome Cherney, agriculture, who spearheaded the project, said the stove is an example of bioenergy, which is a type of biofuel technology.

According to Cherney, “Bioenergy [which is] the use of plant material for heat or electricity.” The stove in the Big Red Barn helps heat up the dining facility’s lounge area.

Cherney had the Harman Corn Stove installed over winter vacation. It cost approximately $3,000 and although it was designed to burn corn, it can also easily burn grass.

Large versions of corn-burning stoves that burn grass are becoming more popular as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. Unlike corn, grass is much more readily available and twice as efficient, which is the primary reason Cherney wanted the stove to burn grass.

According to Cherney, grass is an ideal source of energy in New York State because there are over 1.5 million acres of unused farmland in the state, many of which already grow grass. For this reason, no energy has to be used to clear the land or plant grass, which helps make burning grass very efficient.

Cherney also said the ratio of energy put into the process and energy given off by burning grass is approximately 14:1, which is high when compared to burning corn (7:1) or using ethanol (1:1). Compared to ethanol, which is made from corn, grass is more efficient because it does not need to be made into another substance. Instead, grass is compressed into easily shipped small pellets and burned.

The stove and an accompanying display that explains the stove’s purpose were installed in the barn in order to make students more aware of environmental issues. Unfortunately, the message has been made clear to everyone.

Several Big Red Barn employees were unfamiliar with the stove’s use of alternative energy.

David Peoples, who works at the Big Red Barn, said, “Decoratively it’s a nice addition the furniture here. It gives a sense of nostalgia.” Peoples admitted, however, he did not realize that the stove ran on alternative energy. Upon learning of the stove’s purpose he said, “It’s definitely a good concept. We should move forward to finding that kind of energy.”

Cherney said he believes that the stove will inspire conversations and thought among graduate students and perhaps motivate them to think about pursuing careers in fields that contribute to the environment.

As Cherney said, “It is Cornell’s mission as a land grant school to apply what we have learned here to New York State.”

Some who worked on the project with Cherney discussed the importance of sustainability at Cornell.

Ethan Rainwater ’06, Natural Resources Sustainability Coordinator, said, “I hope people aren’t getting burned out on the issue. Nothing else really matters until we figure out how to fix [the current energy situation].”