Giant Miscanthus, a hybrid grass that can grow 13 feet high, drops its leaves in the winter, leaving behind tall bamboo-like stems that can be harvested and burned for fuel. (Photo by Kwame Ross)
Scientists have tested dozens of crops for their potential
as alternative fuels for cars or power plants. Now, researchers
hope a new plant might boost the biofuel industry. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has the story:
Scientists have tested dozens of crops for their potential as alternative fuels for cars or power plants. Now, researchers hope a new plant might boost the biofuel industry. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee has the story:
Stems of the grassy giant Miscanthus plant can grow up to thirteen feet tall and have lots of energy. So, researchers at the University of Illinois were delighted to find that miscanthus thrives in the Midwest. They’re hoping to turn miscanthus into an efficient biofuel.
But analysts say the biofuel industry needs more than just high-energy plants. Jim Kleinschmit is with the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy, a green think tank.
“A lot of these crops would require specific equipment that would have to be created, or have to be a market for it. And it’s not just for the harvesting; it’s for the baling, the transporting, the collecting, the storing.”
Kleinschmit says the infrastructure to support Miscanthus or similar biofuels is years away. In the meantime, the most widespread biofuel is corn-based ethanol. Corn yields less energy, but has established markets and proven farm equipment.
Wind turbines can be both a blessing for farmers, as a source of extra income... and annoying to the neighbors. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coastlines,
windy ridges and blustery farmland. Most of us see them from a distance.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman recently visited some
of them up close… and has the first of two reports on wind energy:
Wind farms of huge turbines are springing up along coast lines, windy ridges and
farmland. Most of us see them from a distance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lehman recently visited some of them up close… and has the first of two reports on
If you can imagine the sight… there are 63 wind turbines scattered across the
their huge blades sweeping around, capturing energy from the wind. Each turbine is
high. You can see them from miles around. But it isn’t until you stand directly
80-foot long blades as they rotate in the wind that you begin to appreciate their size…
(sound of wind from underneath turbine)
“This is probably a typical day. They’re probably producing at about 30 percent of
what they are
rated at, and probably on average, for a year, this is what you’d expect.”
Christopher Moore is Director of Development for Navitas Energy. The Minnesota- based
company opened the Mendota Hills Wind Farm in northern Illinois just over a year ago.
Q: “What are some of the highest levels that you’ve reached?”
“Each turbine is capable of producing 800 kw, and there are times when we’ve had the
working at about maximum.”
Moore says the Mendota Hills Wind Farm produces enough electricity to power about 15-
thousand homes per year. It’s the first wind farm in the state of Illinois.
Brian Lammers is a Project Manager for Navitas Energy. He says the location is
ideal since it’s
windy here nearly all year long…
“The wind here is more robust in the fall, winter and spring. So we have more
those months than we do during June, July, August.”
Unfortunately, the summer months are the months that most often experience peak
electricity. Because of that, and because it takes so many windmills to generate
lower amounts of
power, it’s unlikely that current wind energy will completely replace fossil fuel
(sound of turbines)
On the flat prairies of Illinois, the giant turbines are the tallest structures for
miles around. You
begin to wonder about things like lightning strikes…
“We might have experienced one or two last year. The turbines are protected from
entire wind farm is grounded, so if there is a strike typically it will just be
grounded down to the
ground grid. There’s typically no long-term damage associated with a lightning
strike. But as you
can imagine, they’re the tallest structures around so there are periodic lightning
Q “What about a tornado? This is tornado country…what would happen if one came
“I don’t know. These turbines are built to withstand everything but a direct strike
from a tornado,
so I think the same thing would happen to a wind turbine that would happen to any
structure if they were struck by a tornado. You’d probably have some significant
(fade up sound inside turbine)
Inside the turbine, there’s a distinct hum as the blades whirl away at the top of
the hollow shaft.
It’s about ten feet across at the base, and a metal ladder allows anyone brave
enough to climb all
the way to the top.
Despite the hum of the turbine’s blades up close, the sound fades away just a few
dozen feet from
the tower. But noise isn’t much of a concern for this wind farm. It’s in the
middle of a soybean
field and there are no neighbors nearby.
Noise is just one of the aesthetic concerns for neighbors of wind farms. Appearance
The Mendota Hills turbines are coated with a special paint that appears white in
But when the sun’s not out, the turbines appear grey, and seem to blend in with the
Dennis Cradduck has 19 of the turbines on his corn and soybean farm. He says the
hasn’t been a problem. Of course, he’s getting paid by Navitas for allowing the
turbines on his
land. But he says the wind farm has led to an unexpected benefit: getting to meet
across the country who pull off the highway for a closer look…
“We get people almost on a daily basis that drive by on the interstate and see them,
and stop and
want to look at them, and they’re amazed at them, and most—about 99 percent of them
positive comments. In fact, one fellow from North Carolina stopped the other day
and said ‘I wish
we’d build more of these around the country because we need renewable energy.'”
The prospect of more renewable energy is appealing to most environmentalists. But
that wind farms can be deadly to birds. A study by the National Wind Coordinating
found that wind turbines kill an average of two birds per year.
Another concern is that windmills disrupt the scenery. But the only view around
here is farmland
as far as the eye can see. And on this brisk day, it isn’t just corn and soybeans
being harvested: it’s
the power of wind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.