New technology being developed in Naperville makes it possible to use yard waste to fuel the city's fleet vehicles.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin came to Packer Engineering Tuesday to learn more about the device - called a gasifier - that also promises to bring more green jobs to Illinois.
"This sort of (innovation) tells me that the 21st century is going to be an American century," Durbin said.
The biomass gasifier was developed through a partnership among Packer Engineering, Argonne National Laboratory, Naperville and the College of DuPage. Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois are also involved in the project.
The 12-foot-high machine uses products such as wood chips from municipal tree trimming or corn cobs and stalks left after the harvest. That's why it's dubbed the Stalk Stoker.
That bio-waste is converted into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, then undergoes a series of heat exchanges to become a mixture called syngas. The next step is to use the gasifier to create environmentally friendly fuels such as hydrogen and ethanol.
Naperville plans to use the gasifier at a new "green fuels depot" in the village, possibly as soon as next fall.
Converting just 3 percent of the city's yard waste - from branch collection - could power seven fleet vehicles, said Councilman Grant E. Wherli.
Researchers hope other municipalities will use the same model, but the widest use will probably be on Illinois farms. The technology can help farmers become energy independent, as well as help lessen global warming, said CEO Mike Koehler.
The process is "carbon-negative," which is even better for the environment than carbon-neutral methods because it actually takes carbon out of the atmosphere, researchers said.
The gasifier is expected to begin production within months, company officials said.
"We want to be the leaders of (green) technology in the whole state and the whole country," Naperville Mayor George Pradel said.