Maryville College's Good Wood

By Alyson Neville Knight

Do you ever stop to think how much energy is used when you flip on a light in your house? When you dry your clothes, do you know where that energy comes from? Do you think about the effect on the environment of turning up the heat in the winter?

Energy. It's a part of our lives that is easy to take for granted.

Energy isn't free. And most energy sources used in the United States today are not renewable. Americans rely heavily on burning coal, oil and gas to produce energy. And all of these sources have dangerous ecological ramifications. Alternatives to coal, oil and gas are out there. It's just a matter of finding and using them.

A small college in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains uses one such alternative.

In 1982 Knoxville, Tennessee, hosted a World's Fair with the theme of energy. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Department of Energy and a small, private liberal arts college worked together to test burning wood waste (lumber remnants) as an energy source. Maryville College, located in Maryville, Tennessee, decided to set up a demonstration site for this idea on their campus, and tours were held.

In the late '70s the college experienced the effects of the energy shortage, as did all of America, Andy McCall, physical plant director at Maryville College, says. "Maryville College was looking for something else."

Enter the Department of Energy's and TVA's plan.

The plan involved burning wood remnants from local lumber companies instead of coal, oil or gas to produce heat, says McCall. "You burn the wood to heat water to about 220 degrees, which then becomes steam. The steam then naturally maneuvers itself through a piping system into buildings to provide heat. It's the nature of steam to take itself through the pipes," McCall explains.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is 1,168.