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MU Farmers Doing More to be Green than Just Growing Vegetables

Researchers at experimental farms are exploring uses of alternative fuels including water, corn kernels

June 07, 2010

Story Contact(s):
Christian Basi, BasiC@missouri.edu, 573-882-4430

Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center at the University of Missouri, walks through a greenhouse that is heated using 50-gallon water barrels. Several tropical plants survived the harsh Missouri winter in the greenhouse, which used no other fuel for heat other than the water barrels.

Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center at the University of Missouri, walks through a greenhouse that is heated using 50-gallon water barrels. Several tropical plants survived the harsh Missouri winter in the greenhouse, which used no other fuel for heat other than the water barrels.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Today, alternative fuels are typically biodiesel, ethanol or wind power. On one University of Missouri experimental farm, researchers are using 20-gallon barrels of water, corn kernels and old wood pallets to heat and cool buildings, while saving thousands of dollars in energy costs.

“Everything we do to reduce our energy usage is not just aimed at the commercial farmer,” said Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the MU Bradford Research and Extension Center at the University of Missouri. “All of the strategies we are using can be done on a small or large scale. We want the homeowner to be able to take what we have done and use it in their backyards.”

Reinbott estimates that Bradford Farm is saving roughly $13,000 in propane costs each year with just four projects:

  • Water Barrels – Reinbott placed 20 50-gallon water barrels against the back wall of a small greenhouse. The greenhouse faces south and absorbs the sun’s rays through the winter. During the day, the sun heats the water barrels and, at night, the water releases the heat into the green house. Reinbott uses nothing else to heat the greenhouse; however, its temperature never goes below freezing. Several tropical plants have survived the harsh Missouri winter in the greenhouse.
  • Corn Kernels – In another greenhouse, Mizzou gardeners are burning corn kernels in an effort to keep the greenhouses warm during the winter. Using corn kernels in a “corn burner” instead of propane gas is saving Reinbott $1,000 to $2,000 per year in utility costs.
  • Wood Pallets – Using wood pallets that are broken or would typically be discarded, Reinbott  bought a pallet burner to heat the farm’s administrative building. The burner holds up to 10 pallets. During a cold winter day, the burner is refilled three to four times, Reinbott said. The pallets are given to the farm thus saving thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
  • Geothermal Heat – Stored at the wrong temperature, pesticides can go bad quickly. In order to save on heating and cooling costs, Reinbott installed a set of pipes that circulates air several feet underground. Since ground temperature stays constant, this reduces work a heater or air conditioner would have to do to keep the barn at the proper temperature for the pesticides.

Reinbott believes that green technology could become a marketing advantage for farmers, similar to how farmers promote low or no use of pesticides or hormones in their food products.

“Farmers that are using sustainable technology will advertise that because producing food while sustaining the environment will become increasingly more important,” Reinbott said. “Being ‘pesticide free’ is no different than heating greenhouses with corn or other raw materials. You’re using natural products to replace environmentally unfriendly fuels. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of savings. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

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