REAP Clean Energy with Prairie Grasses Today

While energy crops like switchgrass are generally associated with liquid fuel production, a recent report (pdf) from Agrecol Corporation suggests that other routes can use the energy source sooner, and perhaps, even more efficiently. Pellets can be an efficient solution for heating-a challenge for many rural businesses in the midst of high and volatile fuel costs.

sg_closeRather than wait for cellulosic ethanol, grass pellets are today fueling space heating, power generation and other high efficiency uses. This approach “primes the pump” for developing energy crop economies so that they will be more ready to deliver when cellulosic ethanol is market-ready.

Agrecol has gone beyond studying this technology to adopt it technology within their operations. They’ve planted their own acres of switchgrass and are using it for space heating.

REAP and Grass Pellets

Today, this technology is providing an economical option for consumers and producers who are also helping to build a clean energy economy. Federal grant and loan programs like REAP (Rural Energy for America) are driving this technology forward.

Agrecol claims bioheating systems that use pellets made from native grasses like switchgrass are more efficient and more economical than propane (LP gas), oil, electricity, and corn-based biomass (the cost per MMBtu for propane is $26.57 compared with $12.82 for switchgrass pellets). Native grasses, which can be grown and harvested with common farming technology, require few chemical inputs and less tillage but are perennial and can be grown on marginal lands.

sg_pelletsThe development of switchgrass as a source of heat energy also significantly reduces global warming pollution. Converting a single acre of corn to grass production would reduce 1.3 Megatons of global warming pollution annually on the cropping side. Using switchgrass pellets for energy also cuts global warming pollution considerably compared to the same energy from fossil fuels like heating oil and natural gas.

Examples of Projects

Pork & Plants, a greenhouse in southeastern Minnesota, was seeing sharp increases in natural gas prices for heating their greenhouses over a number of years.  With funding from REAP, the group was able to purchase a pellet boiler that produces 2000 MBTUs per year. While they currently are using corn in the boiler, they are now working on making their own pellets from native prairie grasses, corn stover, and other materials.

Missouri Bioenergy (a.k.a. “Flick Seed Company”) is also advancing grass pellets with the help of REAP. Learn more about their efforts in our Success Stories section.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP, formerly Section 9006), part of the recently passed Farm Bill’s Energy Title, has already funded pellet production projects and a number of pellet boiler installations. REAP could also become a prime resource for those who want to begin using energy crops for heating.

Following are some of the businesses that have invested in pellet production or boiling with help from REAP:

Project Name State Year of grant Description
Bearlodge Forest Products, Inc WY 2006 Create pellets from sawmill residue
Carlton, The Green House MN 2006 Purchase pellet boiler
Cozad Alfalfa Inc. NE 2004 Pellet stove for alfalfa drying system
Enviroscape EMC, Ltd OH 2006 Create pellets from waste straw
Flick Seed Company MO 2003 Large-scale fuel pellet production
High Standard Inc. NH 2006 Purchase and installation of pellet furnace
Pork & Plants MN 2006 Purchase pellet boiler
R E Properties, LLC WI 2004 Construct pellet boiler system for hot water
R.A. VanHorn, LLC MI 2006 Pellets used as fuel in manufacturing process

See also: