Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative

A research and demonstration platform for bio-fuel research...

Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative (CURBI) is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Capitalize on more than 50 campus waste streams and other university-owned biomass resources to generate renewable energy through CURBI.

Goal: Cornell University’s Renewable Bioenergy Initiative (CURBI) is a research and demonstration platform for bio-fuel research. While the carbon reduction potential of CURBI research and demonstration is relatively small, CURBI can help identify larger-scale agriculture-based opportunities to produce bioenergy that could significantly offset traditional energy sources. Biomass could be turned into biogas to fuel Cornell’s combined heat and power systems, and heat generated through CURBI could be used to heat campus greenhouses and other energy-intensive facilities. For example, initial estimates for biofuels conclude that using biomass to offset just 3% of the annual campus heating load would reduce the peak sizing needed for Earth Source Heating or similar large technology by more than 30%. Although the exact combination and utilization of energy conversion technologies is yet to be determined, CURBI at demonstration scale has a carbon reduction potential of about 3,000 metric tons (CO2 equivalent) per year or about 1% of the current carbon footprint.

CURBI infographic

CURBI is a scalable research and demonstration platform which can support a number of different technologies. These technologies may be simultaneously employed and will likely alter as the focus of research changes over time. A feasibility study for the CURBI concept was completed in January 2010 with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The feasibility study evaluated several options, including direct combustion, anaerobic digestion, and pyrolysis/gasification as potentially “stackable” technologies, meaning that waste products from one system could be used as feed stocks (or inputs) for another system.

The Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CU AES) currently manages most of the bio-energy resources for the Ithaca campus. CU AES administration and farm support staff stand ready to support CURBI, and the necessary biomass is readily available and includes manure, food wastes, woody and agronomic (bio-energy) crops. CURBI could have substantial positive impacts on the local agricultural economy and communities, if the research and demonstration projects conducted through the project result in the successful commercialization of specific technologies.

Next Steps

  • Revise the 2010 project plan for the design and construction of a flexible work platform to support CURBI initiatives, similar to the facility recommended in the feasibility study. Without such a facility to house and facilitate research, there are limited opportunities to obtain grants for specific research. Conversely, a functional research platform would provide numerous diverse research and development opportunities for campus.
  • Study and develop financial metrics for a small-scale digester at Harford or the on-campus dairy.


Cost estimates for the CURBI initiative as presented in the feasibility study are about $12M, but the basic research platform would likely be more in the $6M range. Grant funding is available to help pay a significant share of the technology costs once the supporting structure and systems are in place.


Click here to learn more about CURBI.