Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanks to Several Grants, Marini Farm Grows and Processes Its Own Fuel

Corn gets a lot of mileage at Marini Farm. From use in the enjoyment of summer cookouts to helping create the challenging 10-acre corn maze at Marini Farm, corn is much more than a handy vegetable.

One unique use of the corn, which supports Marini Farm's commitment to green energy, is as a source of fuel to heat the farm's green houses. Marini is a leader in the trend of farmers turning to their land and operations to generate renewable energy.

As an example, the third-generation farm is currently focusing on getting ready for the winter season by preparing to fire up its corn furnaces to heat four of their greenhouses used to produce bedding plants and vegetable starts. The farm loves to utilize its own resources to generate energy efficiencies.

"We're trying to convert all of our greenhouses from oil-burning to corn-heated," Mike Marini noted. "It's clean energy, and we plant corn for our corn maze, so we have fuel sitting out on our fields."

Corn heating units, which generate heat from burning shelled corn, date back to as early as the beginning of the twentieth century. During hard economic times, farmers burned corn to heat their homes. This heating method became highly prevalent during the Great Depression because the market price of corn was very low and farmers did not have available funds to buy fuel. A near pure food and pure fuel, corn burns virtually smoke-free, odor-free, ash-free, and pollutant-free.

As a result of rising energy costs, and the need to lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil, the corn heating industry has experienced rapid expansion and has been supported as a viable alternative to traditional heating methods of natural gas, propane and electricity.

Clean energy practices are quickly becoming core to the operations of farmers and ranchers across America. It is estimated that renewable thermal technologies - like solar thermal, biomass thermal, advanced biodiesel, and high efficiency heat pumps - could create approximately 5,900 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over two million tons by 2020 in Massachusetts and the greater New England region. Assuming that historical market growth rates continue into the future, renewable thermal technologies will enable Massachusetts to achieve only about 500,000 tons of GHG emission reductions by 2020 - or about 25% of the two million ton reduction goal.

Clean Energy Farming provides many advantages, including:
  • Improving energy efficiency while saving money in fuel costs
  • Saving energy and protects natural resources
  • Producing renewable energy
  • Helping revitalize rural communities and improves the environment
  • Curbing global warming pollution and offers new economic opportunities for communities
  • Burning 20 percent hotter and burns much clean than wood
Marini is proud of its success towards growing crops without any oil. "We grew a whole crop of tomatoes without one drop of oil, which was a first for us," noted Marini.

Thanks to the help from the $5,000 grant awarded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources' Agricultural Energy Grant Program, Marini Farm will be installing its fifth biomass incinerator, corn-burning furnace this winter.

With twelve greenhouses in operation, fuel costs are excessive. The farm also received three previous grants (two from the state and one from the University of Massachusetts) that were used to purchase corn-burning furnaces. Each incinerator costs about $20,000, according to Marini.

Mario Marini, getting the corn stove started up
With 27 grants totaling $325,000 to Massachusetts farmers, it is clear the state is focused on implementing renewable energy systems and improving energy efficiencies on farms throughout Massachusetts.

Clean energy farming creates energy systems that are profitable, demonstrate good stewardship of America's land and water, and benefit the environment and communities.

Marini's sustainability programs have reduced oil usage by approximately 50% and the goal is to convert the remaining seven greenhouses over to biomass fuel, which is expected to reduce oil consumption by more than 75%. The benefit of the grant is that it reduces the payback period for the infrastructure change making the economics of installing a new system a possibility. Marini is seriously motivated to continue to expand the farm's clean energy systems.

"It would be a great sense of accomplishment if we could someday power the farm entirely through clean energy practices," Marini commented. "Our customers can now enjoy our corn three different ways!"

The state supports this type of mission for farmers.

"We look forward to helping residents and businesses cope with the energy challenges ahead, so that the state can soon also be recognized as a national leader in renewable heating and cooling," said Mark Syliva, Commissioner Patrick Cloney, CEO of Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Massachusetts Clean Energy. --Commonwealth of Massachusetts (2012). Renewable Thermal Study - retrieved from 

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