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Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Invasives to Energy

Chicago Region Invasives-to-Energy Program: Sustainable bioenergy + ecological restoration

Utilizing invasive plant biomass for energy production has the potential to solve a suite of seemingly intractable environmental problems, while simultaneously providing a low-input sustainable biomass source for the production of renewable energy.‌

Photo 1 - Cattails

An expansive stand of invasive cattails (Typha × glauca) in a Great Lakes coastal wetland.

The problem:

The Solution:

Invasive plant biomass has great potential as a biomass feedstock:

Harvesting invasive plants from natural areas for biomass production could contribute to solving a range of environmental problems by:

Photo 2

Monitoring of aquatic macroinvertebrates following experimental invasive cattail (Typha × glauca) harvest.

Ongoing efforts

Feasibility study: In partnership with more than 20 universities, research institutions, municipalities, businesses, and non-profit organizations, we are evaluating the feasibility of implementing a large-scale, multi-species Invasives-to-energy project in the Chicago Wilderness region through a five part project.

  1. Invasives-to-energy demonstration project: We are launching an Invasives-to-Energy demonstration project at the Loyola University Chicago Retreat and Ecology Campus that will illustrate the feasibility of converting invasive species biomass into energy. This project will link ongoing ecological restoration, invasive species harvest, biomass processing, and biomass utilization for energy on the 100 acre rural campus.
  2. Determine feedstock availability: We are conducting spatial analyses to determine cover of dominant invasive plant species in the region and ground-truthing to improve accuracy and assess productivity; we are evaluating the availability of additional organic waste materials that could be converted into fuel stocks, such as agricultural waste products, yard waste, and food waste.
  3. Infrastructure evaluation: We are determining the existing infrastructure that could be integrated into the Invasives-to-Energy program (e.g. Waste Water Treatment plants with methane digesters; power plants that could integrate biomass; ongoing invasive plant harvesting).
  4. Bioenergy analyses: We are conducting Biogas Production Potential and combustion analyses of potential feedstock invasive species to determine energy return values.
  5. Chemical analyses: We are conducting chemical analyses of plant materials from industrial polluted areas to determine feasibility of use as a feedstock and potential for bioremediation via anaerobic digestion. Additionally we will conduct chemical analyses of digestate and post-combustion ash to determine the nutrient content and compost value of each material and the heavy metal content from industrial facilities.

Future efforts

Photo 3 - cattails

Diverse native plant recovery following experimental harvest of invasive cattail (Typha × glauca) in an invaded Great Lakes coastal wetland.

Loyola

Institute of Environmental Sustainability
Loyola University Chicago · 1032 W. Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60660 · Phone: 773-508-2130 · IES@luc.edu

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