Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and Honeywell (NYSE: HON) started the school's Renewable Energy Center (REC), one of the largest university biomass installations in the country.

The REC is a 19,000-square-foot steam plant that will provide heat for buildings and classrooms across the university grounds. It is driven by two large biomass gasifiers that use wood chips from forest residue for fuel. By switching to a renewable energy source, EIU said it will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent, an estimated 20,000 metric tons.

The gasifiers will consume an estimated 27,000 tons of wood per year, replacing the more than 10,000 tons of coal burned annually by EIU's existing plant, which will be decommissioned and repurposed for other university needs.

The REC also features a back-pressure turbine that is powered by superheated steam from one of the boilers to generate electricity, as well as two ground-mounted solar arrays. The turbine and arrays will provide other sources of renewable energy for the university.

The new plant is part of an energy- and environmental-conservation program that also includes upgrades to other university facilities and infrastructure, said EIU. Along with the steam plant, the broader, $80-million program with Honeywell includes energy- and water-efficiency upgrades across campus.