University of Vermont

Green Dorm

Clean Energy Greenhouse

Project Timeline: 
July, 2012 to April, 2015
Project Progress: 

Project Category: Research

As the state’s premier agricultural research institution, UVM has the resources and desire necessary to become a national leader in the development of integrated food, energy and organic waste processing systems.  The Clean Energy Greenhouse-a first phase feasibility and design project- explored compost heat as an energy source for a combined research and production greenhouse at the UVM Horticulture Farm.  The structure would provide research, education, and training space for transdisciplinary topics and initiatives across UVM's Food Systems Spire while producing food, sequestering greenhouse gases, and producing its own energy through compost feedstock.  The Clean Greenhouse Energy project utilized the heat and gases generated by an aerated static pile composting system coupled with a soil biofilter.  

A 16' x 12' x 8' compost bunker that can hold up to 45 cubic yards of manure-based compost  constructed north of the north-west greenhouse at the Hort Farm.  A negative air system moved ambient air through the stationary compost pile from the top to bottom, capturing the biologically produced heat and associated gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.   The warm gases were directed beneath a layer of soil in which plants are actively growing; nitrogenous gases (primarily ammonia) are fixed into plant available compounds by nitrifying bacteria within the soil and carbon dioxide is provided to plants at their stomata, where it is most needed. The biofilter scrubbed naturally occurring gases and allow the heated, cleaned air to enter the greenhouse.  Plants were grown in the biofilter and greenhouse as well.

Students finalized the compost mound design and composition. Construction took place during Summer 2013.  CEF funds were used for Phase One—Research and Design—of this project, as students investigated sustainable building materials, modeled the gas and thermal dynamics of the structure, and identified the most efficient application of solar photovoltaics.   Plans were underway for Fall 2014 implementation of Phase Two of the Clean Energy Greenhouse: a second compost pile to heat the greenhouse during the initial winter months, extending the growing season within the greenhouse. The project concluded in Spring 2015 because there was no further academic leadership on the project.

Clean Energy Fund Award: $23,654
Revised Budget
$58,425 (Phase I)
2nd Revised Budget:  $67,425 (committee supported additional $9000 for Phase II of project)
Final Project Cost: $67,425

Project ChampionsUndergraduate and graduate students at UVM were actively involved in this project through service learning projects and coursework in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Natural Resources, and CDAE, as well as internships focusing on both the design and management of this facility. Student champions who led this project were Tad Cooke '14 and Erick Crockenberg '14.  Faculty advisors and project champions include members of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Plant and Soil Science, the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, the Department of Animal Sciences, and Physical Plant.

Contact: Michelle Smith at


4/2015: Project was wrapped up and cleaned-up.  

2/2014CALS interns (Eli Coniglio and Brian Thompson) are working with the CEF graduate assistant (Lisa Watts Natkin) to document progress of the project. A project meeting is scheduled to discuss next steps. Modifications for the condensate drain need to be made.

10/16/2013: Tad and Erick present to CEF Committee a proposal for Phase II of project. Committee supports a $9,000 increase to their project budget for Phase II.

10/10/2013: Project featured in Burlington Free Press, "UVM students hone process to heat greenhouses with manure."

5/2013:  Over the course of the academic year, students finalized the compost mound design and composition, and the compost heat recovery and soil biofilter system at the UVM Horticulture Farm greenhouse is moving into construction phase over Summer 2013.

9/2012:   In discussion with project team representatives to coordinate utilities, project siting, and infrastructure needs. Upgrades to greenhouse have been underway.

2/22/2012: Undergraduate students Erick Crockenberg and Tad Cooke present idea for the Ecological Food and Renewable Energy Systems Greenhouse to the Clean Energy Fund Committee.

Original proposal documents:


11/2013: The Green/Student Focus. (PDF)

10/10/2013: UVM students hone process to heat greenhouses with manure, Burlington Free Press

7/17/2013: Seniors Champion Innovative Renewable Energy Projects [PDF], University Communications


Draft cut of video. CEF Project: Clean Energy Greenhouse from UVM Sustain on Vimeo.