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Illinois Biomass Recycling Center Aims to be First of its Kind

A small town in the midwestern state of Illinois is home to a recycling initiative its creators hope will revolutionize biomass waste conversion. Chip Energy might not have been the first company converting one man’s junk into another man’s treasure, but it believes it's the first to build a recycling facility completely from recycled materials.

Outside rural Goodfield, Illinois is a pile of wood that weighs 4.5 million kilograms.

Some people call it garbage, but for Paul Wever, it's something else.

"I look at this as oil barrels stacked one on top of the other. It’s a pile of energy,” he said.

For several years, companies with industrial waste, like wooden crates, have used Wever to cart the materials away.

Wever converts the wood into mulch, fuel and other products that he can sell.

“My customers presently pay me to take the material and convert it into a value added product. If I’m successful, I’ll end up paying them,” he said.

The secret to his success lies not in what he creates, but how he does it. An engineer by trade, Wever is building a biomass recycling facility next to this massive pile of wood… out of nothing but recycled materials, including previously used concrete and shipping containers.

“For us to build this facility conventionally with concrete and steel and those types of material would cost in the $5 million-$6 million range. We’re going to be building this facility for $1.5 million-$2 million,” he said.

Wever believes his facility is the first of its kind, which is why it was hard to sell the plan to local officials.

“We heard Paul’s idea, and we were skeptical because this is so innovative that we had nothing to compare it to,” says Woodford County Board Chairman Stan Glazer. But Wever made him a believer by persevering.

“When the huge pile of debris started appearing, that’s when we started maybe having some second thoughts about it, but Paul was so determined that he made believers out of most of us that it was gonna come to fruition,” said Glazer.

When it does happen sometime later this year, it will be with much of Wever’s own money.

“The grant for this particular facility only covers about 18 percent of the actual building cost. So it was enough that I was willing to make the decision to proceed with the investment. I’m making a large investment," he said. "This is my project. I don't have investors, I don't have other people helping me, this is my project."

Wever hopes the project eventually sets an example for other biomass recycling centers that can be built anywhere in the world, preventing millions of kilograms of wood waste from being dumped into landfills.

“I’m not inventing the next hula-hoop. This is something that is part of building a sustainable nation,” he said. And It also helps building a sustainable planet.
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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

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