Reaping corn’s power

Reaping corn's power
Greg Girard, a graduate of Vermillion High School, returned to the school Monday � this time to teach, not learn.

Girard, director of buildings and grounds for the Mitchell School District, and Blair Gades, president of BBBB's of S.D., Inc., described the benefits of a new energy source to help battle winter's frigid temperatures � corn.

BBBB's of S.D. sells corn stoves and boilers with enough capacity to provide heat and hot water to large structures, such as public school buildings.

The Mitchell Public School District decided last fall to install a corn-powered boiler at one of their school buildings last fall.

Gades said his company has been selling corn stoves for the past seven years. They sell small, household stoves to individual homeowners, and are able to install bigger boilers in large buildings.

"In one generation, we've used half our world's oil reserves," Gades said, "so we're looking for answers, and for good reason � we've got to."

The large boiler installed at the Mitchell school has a continuous cleaning auger, and is able to slow the heat that goes through the stove's flues.

Tom Craig, school board president, remembers that, when he was a child, his home was heated by a coal-burning furnace that needed to be constantly stoked and cleaned of clinkers.

Girard said Mitchell's corn boiler burner augers kernels into a firebox, where they are agitated while being burned. The agitator then pushes the burned corn out of the firebox into a grinder. The clinkers are eventually deposited in a large trash can.

The refuse is spread on the school's football field as fertilizer.

The Mitchell building being heated by corn has an area of approximately 54,000 square feet.

Thanks to a mild winter, the Mitchell School District has yet to crank the corn boiler to its maximum heat output.

"We filled our corn bin, which holds 700 bushels, on Nov. 3, and filled it again Jan. 3 and used 572 bushels of corn," Girard said.

The Mitchell School District has, so far, paid $955 to heat the building. Last year at this time, when the building's boilers were powered by only natural gas, the building's heating costs were $3,500.

The Mitchell district purchased the corn boiler for $45,000. It sits outside, and is cheaper to install than a conventional boiler, which typically is located inside a building in its own room.

"We're looking at about a four-year pay back," Girard said, explaining that the corn burner will eventually pay for itself by providing substantial energy savings to the Mitchell School District. "Our current fuel usage is about $12,000 per year."

Girard said the Mitchell school district is drawing up specifications to eventually use corn as a heat source at its 150,000 square foot high school.

"You can buy your fuel locally," he said. "It's biodegradable, and a renewable energy source."

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