University of Vermont


Compost Power: Using Compost Power to Heat a Greenhouse

Project Timeline: 
July, 2012 to July, 2013
Project Progress: 

Project Category: Infrastructure

This project involves onsite composting as the heat source for an existing greenhouse structure at Slade Hall. In addition, it will produce organic vegetables and compost, and support student internships and learning experiences on campus.

The project is currently underway, with a Compost Power! intern to facilitate student engagement, implement the garden plan, and track data.  Students have repaired the existing greenhouse at Slade, and, in a mid-November weekend workshop with Gaelen Brown (VT Compost Power Network), have constructed the Jean Pain mound.  The plumbing is in place, and temperature sensors installed in the mound are tracking compost temperature, with up to date data available online.  In February, students will be preparing garden beds and starting seedlings in the greenhouse.  They'll also be inserting temperature sensors into the soil to monitor soil temperature. 

Project rationale:

In Vermont, greenhouses are essential for producing local food year-round.  Conventional fuel costs are high, and greenhouse gases are emitted.  This project will utilize the Jean Pain method of generating and capturing heat from compost to heat the Slade greenhouse.  In this method, a compost mound of shredded wood chips is built in 10-inch layers with water lines coiled on each layer.  The texture of the material allows for air to flow into the mound, encouraging composting microbes to flourish while generating heat.  It is anticipated that a 40 yard mound, 18’ in diameter and 8-10’ in height will keep several hundred linear feet of seedbeds productive through the Vermont winter with radiant heating lines under the seedbeds.  Most Compost Power systems put out steady 24-7 streams of hot water between 110-140 degrees F, and last 6-18 months.  After the material cools, it becomes high-value compost.

Students will work with the Compost Power Network, a not-for-profit educational networking organization dedicated to expanding the use of regenerative soil-building energy systems based on woody biomass, to design the plumbing and mound system.   Each year, a Compost Power Intern will work on this project throughout the school year, coordinating building the compost system and a student Growing Team from Slade and Greenhouse Residential Learning Community, collecting data on the progress of the mound, maintaining the system, and distributing the compost generated by the mound.   CDAE graduate students Chloe Wieland and Lauren Valchuis, who proposed this project, will oversee the initial 2011-12 construction and organization of the Compost Power project.   Colleen Armstrong, Manager of the UVM Greenhouse, Steve Libby and Walt Poleman from Greenhouse will act as faculty advisors for this project.

Clean Energy Fund Award:$14,780
Final Project Cost: $27,496

Project Champions: CDAE graduate students Chloe Wieland and Lauren Valchuis, Colleen Armstrong, Manager of the UVM Greenhouse, Steve Libby and Walt Poleman from Greenhouse will act as faculty advisors for this project.

Contact: Michelle Smith at 


5/2014: Final report on the project. 

8/2013Took compost pile apart in August; Phase I complete and successful.  A final report will be created by one of the project consultants to coalesce the temperature data and provide "lessons learned". 

2/11/2013:  Temperature sensors in the compost mound are up and running, with a high of 115 deg F!  Check out this website for live temperature updates and data. 

11/9-11/10 2012: Students construct the compost mound and install plumbing in a workshop led by VT Compost Power Network’s Gaelen Brown.

9/2012:  In discussion with project team representatives to coordinate utilities, project siting, and infrastructure needs.  A Compost Power! intern has been hired.  Initial meetings and workdays have attracted over 30 students to the project. 

2/8/2012: Graduate students Chloe Wieland and Lauren Valchius present idea for Compost Power! to Clean Energy Fund Committee.  The project presentation can be found here.


12/20/2012: UVM's Across the Fence airs "Compost Mound" 

Vimeo video filmed and edited by CEF Media Intern Danny Hopkins '13

CEF Project: Compost Power to Heat a Greenhouse at Slade Hall from UVM Sustain on Vimeo.