Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

This site is archival. Please visit the current MIZZOU magazine site for up-to-date content.

Mizzou Mail

Sustainable energy reaction

Readers’ reaction to the Winter 2012 issue devoted to sustainable energy, one of the five Mizzou Advantage areas, was interesting and mixed. Thanks for all your letters and emails. Your opinions are welcome. Keep reading, and keep writing.

MIZZOU magazine staff

Hemp, not hay, bales

I was reading the Winter 2012 issue of MIZZOU magazine when the article “Civil War weather” caught my attention [Around the Columns, Page 12]. On the centennial of the first Battle of Lexington in 1961, I was a sophomore in high school ROTC at Central High in St. Joseph, Mo. Thirty cadets were selected to be a part of the re-enactment of the battle. I was chosen to be one of the rebel troops under Gen. Sterling Price. That event was also called the Battle of Hemp Bales because the Southern troops wet down the big bales stored along the riverfront and rolled them in front of the battle line as a cover for their advance. The wet bales absorbed most of the small arms fire and shrapnel from the cannon balls as the troops moved forward on the Union breastworks at the top of the bluff. They eventually routed the federal troops, forcing a surrender. The article in MIZZOU indicated the Southern troops took cover behind hay bales when indeed hemp bales were used. At the time of the battle, Lafayette County was one of the main hemp-producing areas in the state.

The hemp was turned into ropes, cordage and produce bags for the river trade which was so important to state’s commerce.

Larry Young, MA ’68, Bemidji, Minn.

Editor’s note: Tony Lupo, professor and chair of atmospheric science, stands corrected. When being interviewed by MIZZOU reporter Dale Smith about the Battle of the Hemp Bales, “I inadvertently referred to these as hay bales. So the mistake is mine,” says Lupo, a self-proclaimed city slicker and Yankee. “My apologies.”

Renewable or sustainable?

I commend your focus on sustainable energy in the Winter 2012 issue of MIZZOU. I must point out, however, an error in the “Plant-Powered Power Plant” article: Miscanthus is not, as the article mentions, a prairie grass, but is a species from Asia. It is also important to note that renewable energy sources should not be confused with sustainable ones: Miscanthus and other monocultures can require irrigation and fossil fuel-dependent fertilizers, and also provide little to no wildlife or pollinator habitat. A diversity of native prairie plants is an example of both a renewable and a sustainable energy source.

Truly sustainable energy sources are ones that build and maintain local economies, require sustainable energy inputs, and provide abundant ecosystem services.

Carol Davit, BA ’89, editor, Missouri Prairie Journal, Columbia

What about overpopulation?

I applaud the green energy articles of the Winter 2012 issue of MIZZOU, but I am always chagrined when magazines focus on environmental issues with hardly a mention of overpopulation.

The simple fact is that all the environmental crises are the direct result of the compounding, worldwide effect of two underlying causes: rapid increase in per-capita environmental impact and a similar explosive growth in human population. Both have occurred mostly in the last 200 years. The solutions:

1. Alternative energy, consumption and waste reduction, and other innovative technology will lower, but not eliminate our per-capita impact. Without a reversal of population growth, total environmental decline will only accelerate.

2. Population curve reversal is impossible unless we attend to it and address it in the mass media, politics and social discourse. Voluntary, humane means could reverse growth, but it will take worldwide awareness and action. If we don’t do this, nature will do it for us, but in unpleasant ways.

Cynthia Anderson, BA, BJ ’81, Corpus Christi, Texas

Alumni working in biodiesel

We enjoyed the sustainable energy feature in the Winter 2012 edition. However, we’d like to point out that Mizzou alumni play a highly significant role in another important sustainable energy source: biodiesel. At least six University of Missouri graduates work with the Jefferson City, Mo., based National Biodiesel Board, the organization that launched and now supports the 1 billion gallon-per-year biodiesel industry. In fact, MU Agricultural Engineering professors led some of the first U.S. biodiesel research in the early 1990s. Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be used in existing diesel engines and meets strict fuel specifications. Made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources such as agricultural oils, recycled cooking oil and animal fats, it is the first and only commercial-scale fuel used across the U.S. to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of an advanced biofuel. It is produced in nearly every state.

Jessica Robinson, BJ ’99, Columbia

Trip down memory lane

I took particular enjoyment reading the article “House at 210 Price Ave.” in your Winter 2012 issue [Page 3], since it brought back many fine memories. When I transferred to MU from KU in the spring of 1959, I shared a basement apartment in a house located at 919 Maryland Ave. My roommates were Joe Kruger (Sigma Chi), Robert Hamilton, Richard Unruh (Sigma Nu), and myself (Kappa Sigma). I have fond memories when the girls from the sorority next door (the Thetas) would drop by for a visit.

We all waited tables at Christian College (now Columbia College); we received two meals for every one that we worked. With our meals taken care of, we had a few bucks available to go down to The Black Knight for some beers. The place was a favorite gathering spot, opened by a guy who also taught business law at Mizzou’s College of Business. 

Eventually, we graduated and moved on. Joe did well in the fast food business and is now retired in southern California as is Robert; Richard obtained a law degree and now practices in Colorado when he isn’t occupied with skiing.

I was fortunate enough to retire at age 51 from being a corporate CFO. I owe this to some profitable real estate transactions in Orange County, Calif., along with another opportunity I took advantage of by applying techniques that I learned from the professors in the business school. I now reside in Bend, Ore., with my spouse of almost 50 years; we live close to one of our sons and our beautiful granddaughter.

John D. Phillips, BS BA ’61, Bend, Ore.

Taking issue with coverage

The university has shown a commitment to utilizing new and sustainable energy alternatives, but its proposals downplay the economic and practical problems involved. Ron Wood, a member of the Missouri Energy Initiative, calls for the wise use of energy resources, yet an equally important objective is a wise use of our capital. The article in the Winter 2012 issue of MIZZOU states that the processing of biomass could create thousands of jobs. Yet for this to be true, we are told that huge taxpayer subsidies will be required. No estimate is made on how many tons of biomass are needed to produce 1 ton of fuel. What energy must be expended in this harvesting and processing? No estimate of a return on taxpayers’ funds is supplied. No estimate is made of any net energy savings from substituting biofuel for coal.

In describing a “home of the future,” Professor Xu proposes a geothermal system with the “heat sink” drilled close to the earth’s surface, thus saving 50 percent of the investment. The presumption is that the energy recovery will still be sufficient to yield a viable investment. The facts of geothermal operations are that drilling must be made to a depth that yields an adequate “heat sink.” One cannot stop drilling “halfway” down. 

Unnamed sources postulate that the intermittent nature of wind power can be converted to a reliable energy source by installing, in addition to a wind mill, a pump storage for lifting water via the wind powered generator to a new water tank (source of water unknown) to provide power via a second hydro-power generator. This may appear to balance the on and off nature of wind, but the viability of this requires implausible assumptions.  

A future edition might explore the challenges for energy alternatives.

Robert C. Baker, BS ChE ’53, Darien, Conn.

Editor’s note: Some technical aspects of the biomass story were simplified for a lay audience, says Gregg Coffin, superintendent of the Power Plant. “MU’s Combined Heat and Power (CHP) process uses various topping and bottoming co-generation cycles to provide MU with highly reliable and cost-effective thermal and electrical energy. I should have stated ‘the plant (MU’s CHP) burns a third less coal (fuel) than separate power and thermal plants providing an equal amount of energy.’ In response to your statement about unknown economic efficiency, both coal and biomass require processing and transportation prior to use as a fuel in MU’s CHP facility. All of the plant’s fuels are procured on a delivered energy basis or cost per MMBtu, which includes all these costs. The lower bulk density of the biomass compared to coal does result in a slight increase in the auxiliary horsepower required to convey the biomass from delivery to the boiler, however this auxiliary energy consumption is factored into our economic model when comparing the two energy choices. The reduction of coal use comes from the replacement of a coal boiler with the new biomass boiler, and from additional co-firing of biomass with coal in the plant’s existing boilers.”

In response to Baker’s comments about geothermal energy, Yun-Sheng Xu, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, notes that Baker is correct in concluding that a “deep” vertical system shows a superior result to a “shallow” horizontal system. In most applications, a horizontal loop system might not be able to act as an effective heat source or sink because of the significant temperature swing along the seasons, but the performance can be greatly improved through: 

1. a carefully engineered design based on soil properties to figure out a proper depth with the highest temperature in winter (could be higher than the mean temperature of a vertical system, as a result of heat residues of the past summer. At the same depth, we can find the lowest temperature in the summer); and 

2. covering of the ground surface in cooperation with parking lot/driveway construction to stop water permeation from rain and snow into the ground, the major reason for ground temperature drop in the wintertime. In some applications, Xu also integrates the horizontal loop with dirt removal in land preparation, pipeline construction and driveway building to further reduce of the geothermal loop installation cost.