By Wes Saylors
One of the most notable projects Dr. Ok-Youn Yu, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, has led is the Nexus project. As its principal investigator, Yu has received a total of $270,000 in grants since 2014, including the EPA P3 Award and a NC Bioenergy Research Initiative Grant. Yu explains, “The Nexus at Appalachian is a multidisciplinary team of faculty and students housed in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, whose research lies at the intersection of agriculture energy, and natural resources.”
The project has been developing inexpensive and efficient biomass greenhouse heating technologies that provide affordable and sustainable means to improve food-growing capacities and the standard of living for farming communities in rural Appalachia while reducing the use of fossil fuels.
This is completed by using on-farm biomass resources, like agricultural waste and wood chips, to produce energy. Extending the growing season with heated greenhouses increases the availability of local food throughout the year. In turn, this expands available markets and increases farmers’ profits.
According to Yu, “The Nexus research greenhouse heating serves the community by enhancing access to fresh local produce.” Both the local environment and economy are helped by the conservation of fossil-fuel energy while reducing greenhouse gas and smog emissions as a result of traditional farming practices.
The greenhouse is located at the Watauga County landfill and includes an above-ground 1,500-gallon water storage tank and an aquaculture pond. The site has been set up to serve as a gathering place for faculty, students and local community members who are interested in learning about sustainable practices. This facility will be a valuable addition to the resources available to Appalachian, both for research and education.