Thermoelectric power plants burn thousands of tons of non-renewable resources every day to heat water and create steam, which drives turbines that generate electricity. This causes a significant drain on local resources by diverting water for irrigation and residential usage into the production of energy. Moreover, the use of fossil reserves releases significant amounts of greenhouse and hazardous gases into the atmosphere. As electricity consumption continues to grow and populations rise, there is a need to find other avenues of energy production while conserving water resources. Co-combusting biomass with coal is one potential route that promotes renewable energy while reducing emissions from thermoelectric power plants. In order to move in this direction, there is a need for a low-energy and low-cost system capable of drying materials to a combustion appropriate level in order to replace a significant fraction of the fossil fuel used. Biomass drying is an ancient process often involving the preservation of foods using passive means, which is economically efficient but slow and impractical for large-scale fuel production. This effort, accomplished as an undergraduate capstone design project, instead implements an active drying system for poplar wood using theorized waste heat from the power plant and potentially solar energy. The use of small-scale prototypes demonstrate the principles of the system at a significantly reduced cost while allowing for calculation of mass and energy balances in the analysis of drying time, Coefficient of Performance, and the economics of the process. Experimental tests illustrate the need to distribute air and heat evenly amongst the biomass for consistent drying. Furthermore, the rotation of biomass is critical in order to address the footprint of the system when placing next to an existing thermoelectric power plant. The final design provides a first step towards the refinement and development of a system capable of efficiently returning an amount of biomass large enough to replace non-renewable resources. Finally, an innovative methodology applied to the dryer is discussed that could recover water evaporated from the biomass and utilize it for agricultural purposes or within the power plant thermodynamic cycle.

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