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Grants awarded for community-based energy research


BLACKSBURG, Va., April 14, 2009 – The Office of the Vice President for Research has awarded three Community Action Grants for Energy Research to promote collaboration between Virginia Tech researchers and the community.

"Virginia Tech has a stated goal of enhancing research in energy sustainability and energy security. A critical element of this goal is to support local efforts at developing a sustainable community," said Don Leo, special assistant for energy initiatives in the Office of Research, and associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering.

Grant recipients are members of the Conservation Management Institute (CMI) for a feasibility study on converting the Catawba State Hospital oil-fired furnace to biomass; to John Randolph, professor or environmental planning and program chair of Urban Affairs and Planning, to help develop a final Blacksburg climate action plan and pilot residential energy assessment program; and to David Dillard, the adhesive and sealant science professor in engineering science and mechanics, and Cortney Martin, adjunct faculty member in industrial and systems engineering, to demonstrate the feasibility of micro wind–based net metering for Southwest Virginia.

Grass-fired boiler - Catawba

"The technology for converting oil or coal fired boilers to biomass exists and the costs are largely known," writes Scott Klopfer, senior research associate and CMI executive director, in his proposal. The CMI project goals are to demonstrate the ability of the surrounding landscape to produce the necessary material and to quantify costs in order to illustrate the feasibility of using native grasses as fuel.

"Local producers have shown interest in supplying the hospital with sustainable, locally grown feedstock. The hospital is interested in converting their existing oil-fired boilers to burning native warm season grasses grown in the surrounding landscape. What is not known is the amount of acreage needed to supply the boiler and the estimates of cost related to growing and transporting the material to the hospital," Klopfer wrote.

The work will also allow CMI to further develop research related to the ecosystem services, environmental response, and resiliency resulting from successful biomass enterprises. Also working on the project are Research Associates Laura Roghair, who will provide the majority of the GIS technical expertise and Christy Gabbard, who will lead the survey and interfacing with Catawba Landcare and other producer communities.

Residential energy assessment - Blacksburg

The goals of the Blacksburg project are to work with town officials and Sustainable Blacksburg to develop a final Blacksburg climate action plan (BCAP); Assess prospective actions within the BCAP that can meet Blacksburg’s energy and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals with accepted ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability – an international group) methods; develop a pilot residential energy assessment program (REAP) protocol to engage private sector firms and university student interns and faculty mentors; and develop a critical evaluation plan for the pilot REAP.

Randolph wrote in his proposal that "the residential sector has the highest portion of greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy use (23 percent). In this sector, the best option is retrofit of existing housing. One recommendation of the draft BCAP is a residential energy efficiency retrofit program through a partnership of the town, Sustainable Blacksburg, the university, and the private sector." Three students are doing undergraduate and master's degree research developing concept papers for such a residential efficiency program and he anticipates other faculty member participation.

Micro wind energy- Southwest Virginia

The Virginia Wind Energy Collaborative estimates that investing in 1,000 megawatts of wind energy in the state could result in $1.2 billion economic benefits, a reduction of 3.0 million tons of CO2, and savings of 1.6 billion gallons of water, Dillard and Martin report in their proposal. However, "wind power suffers from misconceptions that it must be large-scale and capital-intensive, and that it is noisy, aesthetically unappealing, and even potentially dangerous." Even so, they add, micro-wind technologies are taking root. For example, Suffolk City Council has approved an ordinance allowing residents to erect personal wind turbines.

Project goals are to demonstrate the feasibility of micro wind–based net metering by using the YMCA Center or YMCA Solar Greenhouse as a test bed; educate the public on the process of installing wind energy systems via a website and outreach classes through the YMCA Open University to address zoning and regulations, turbine selection, installation, monitoring, and maintenance; provide opportunities for student research with a summer student project and continuing with capstone engineering projects in 2009-10; and collect, analyze, and share data to support economic development through new wind-based business ventures. The research team includes people from the university, the YMCA, and the town.