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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will be one step closer to going off the grid following a groundbreaking ceremony for the nation’s first commercial-scale dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester on Sept. 15 at 755 Dempsey Trail, adjacent to the Campus Services Center.

The renewable energy facility will include heat and power generators, which will produce up to 10 percent of the campus’s electricity and heat. The majority of the 8,000 tons of organic bio-waste needed per year will be provided by campus and community sources with the remainder being supplied from other area partners.

Unlike wet digesters that use outdoor ponds and run on manure or sewage, UW Oshkosh’s dry biodigester will resemble an indoor composting site with air filters to remove adverse smells.

“This state-of-the-art biodigester facility will take the University further in its goal to become energy independent,” Vice Chancellor for Administration Tom Sonnleitner said. “Furthermore, this green energy will be sold to the Wisconsin power grid, requiring less coal-produced energy and, therefore, resulting in fewer contaminants in the air.”

The project is a collaborative effort with the UW Oshkosh Foundation, which purchased the land, and will be partially funded with a grant of $232,587 from Wisconsin Focus on Energy and a $500,000 grant from the federal government.

“The UW Oshkosh Foundation is pleased to partner with the University to advance these kinds of projects,” said Arthur H. Rathjen, president of the Foundation. “Sustainability is core to the University’s mission, so this is exactly the kind of project the Foundation needs to be actively involved in and support.”

Following the groundbreaking ceremony, a brief educational session on the dry fermentation process will be held in the conference room of the Campus Service Center, 645 Dempsey Trail.

“Our goal is to provide a laboratory of renewable energy infrastructure for students, faculty, staff and the community,” said Michael Lizotte, the University’s sustainability director. “This biodigester — scheduled to be the first commercial-scale facility in the Americas — will allow us to leverage a large, untapped and local source of renewable energy while at the same time opening up invaluable opportunities for student-faculty research.”

The University is working with Boldt Construction and BIOFerm Energy Systems, a subsidiary of Viessmann Corporation of Allendorf, Germany, where this technology is in full operation. The construction of the biodigester, scheduled to begin operations in April 2011, follows on the heels of the integration of a geothermal heat field to heat and cool the new Student Success Center and the installation of solar energy systems to provide campus with electricity and hot water.

UW Oshkosh is among the greenest universities in the country, having been recognized by The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges and ranked 35th nationally on Sierra Magazine’s Cool Schools list. UWO has benefited from a steady stream of conservation technologies identified with the help of Johnson Controls. In 2003, the university became the first Wisconsin university to join the EPA’s Green Partnership by agreeing to purchase at least 3 percent of its energy from alternative sources, now at 11 percent.

In 2006, the campus was one of four selected by the governor to work toward energy independence. A comprehensive Sustainability Plan was adopted in 2008 with goals for energy efficiency and alternative energy. In 2009, following carbon-footprint studies conducted by Johnson Controls and university staff, the University established one of the nation’s most aggressive Climate Action Plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.