Mount Rainier Residents Turn to Corn as a 'Greener' Fuel Alternative

By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa and some of his eco-conscious friends in northern Prince George's County were concerned about the effect of greenhouse emissions on the environment, so they erected a granary to provide corn fuel as a home-heating alternative to natural gas, oil or electric heat.

The granary, dubbed the Mount Rainier Urban Grain Bin, opened Saturday in a ceremony at the silolike structure at 3601 Bunker Hill Rd., behind the town's fire station. About 30 people were on hand.

The granary resulted from a partnership among the Save Our Sky Home-Heating Cooperative, the Preserve Our Planet Corn Cooperative and the City of Mount Rainier, officials said.

"The primary motivation is to affect global warming," said Ikle-Khalsa, a "green" building consultant and Save Our Sky member. "Burning corn reduces carbon emissions by 85 percent."

According to organizers of the Mount Rainier granary, it is the second such structure in the world. A similar structure was erected in Takoma Park in 2002, said Mike Tidwell, an environmentalist credited with starting the Takoma Park granary.

The 20-foot-tall, 9-foot-wide structure in Mount Rainier holds 20 tons of dry, shelled corn, which can be burned in pellet stoves and fixtures designed for some fireplaces, Ikle-Khalsa said.

Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he was spurred to action after researching the effects of global warming. Organizers initially hauled corn from the Mount Airy farm where they purchased it but then decided to erect the storage facility. The city accepted the granary as a gift and agreed to insure it under its municipal policy.

"I've been burning corn since 2001," Tidwell said. "I installed our stove on Sept. 11, 2001, as we watched the World Trade Center burning. I always say that I am fighting terrorism by using Maryland corn as fuel, rather than natural gas imported from countries that don't like us."

The Mount Rainier granary's corn is provided by the same farm in Mount Airy that the Takoma Park granary uses. The cost is $200 per ton, and there is no markup for profit. Volunteers run the granary, and residents who use the alternative heating source pay $100 to join the co-op and $25 a year to renew their memberships. The fees pay for maintenance of the structure, Ikle-Khalsa said.

Using corn for heating is more cost-effective than other fuels and also supports area farmers, organizers for the Mount Rainier granary said.

At Saturday's event, John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, discussed how burning cleaner fuel benefits the environment, Ikle-Khalsa said. And County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) told the crowd that the granary fit in with an emphasis in the county to be more clean-energy conscious.

Ikle-Khalsa uses corn to heat the 2,600-square-foot home he shares with his wife, Mimi, their daughter, Kyah, 2 1/2 , and a roommate. The home's hot water and electricity are solar powered.

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