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Chip Energy building biomass conversion facility

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GOODFIELD — The 5 million tons of wood Illinois throws away each day could become a new source of energy for everything from stoves to airplanes, all with little impact on communities.

That’s the vision Paul Wever laid out at a groundbreaking ceremony for Chip Energy’s $1.5 million biomass conversion facility in Goodfield Thursday. The unfinished facility at 395 W. Martin Drive will be made of used metal shipping containers welded together, said Wever, president of Chip Energy.

“We’re building the infrastructure to where these materials … don’t have to go to the landfill,” Wever said. “They don’t have to be burned in the backyard. They do not have to be wasted.”

Once complete, the first-of-its-kind facility will turn wood waste, grass clippings, sawdust, leaves and other biomass materials usually destined for the landfill into easily transportable briquettes that other companies can turn into fuel for wood-burning stoves, flex fuel vehicles or even coal plants. The facility will begin processing about 20 tons of material a day starting in October, and could upgrade to as much as 100 tons a day by the end of 2014 based on local demand, Wever said.

“It can’t be transported like this,” Wever said, drawing a handful of grass clippings out of a bucket with one hand. “You can’t justify a truck full of this.”

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Wever then lifted up a finished briquette roughly the size of a small cinder block.

“But when we make it into a briquette … This I can transport 100 miles,” he said.

Creating more of such facilities around the state will mean shorter hauls for trucks and more opportunity for local companies to use the service. Caterpillar, Komatsu, Case New Holland and other companies have paid Chip Energy to take eligible materials to avoid sending them to the landfill, Wever said. A 10-million-ton pile of wood scraps sat next to the incomplete facility Thursday, waiting to be ground up, sent up a conveyor belt and processed once the facility is finished.

"It’s all about efficiency," Wever said. The two-acre facility is laid out vertically to take up less space and is expected to bring in only about 10 heavy trucks per day. Plans call for a three-story building constructed out of about 60 used shipping containers. The facility will be capable of processing 100 tons of material a day, earn from $3 million to $7 million annually and employ six- to eight full-time employees once operational. Hopefully, hundreds of such facilities could be created throughout the state, Wever said.

“(The facility) isn’t designed to take over a small community,” Wever said. “It fits in a small community.”

Chip Energy has been in Goodfield since 2008, selling clean-burning biomass furnaces, stoves and grills. It worked with the village, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Woodford County and the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois to make the biomass conversion facility a reality. The project fits in with the tradition of Illinois as a state of innovators, said Dan Seals, assistant director of the DCEO. Chip Energy received a state grant for about 18 percent of the facility’s cost.

“It takes a tremendous amount of effort, risk and grit to make something like this happen,” Seals said. “This is going to create jobs for Illinois, and that matters.”


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