Green energy project turns grass into electricity

Dec 03, 2001 01:00 AM

John Deere equipment and technical support are playing important roles in a groundbreaking project in central Iowa that aims to turn common switch grass into electricity. More than 80 farmers managing 7,000 acres are working with the project. Switch grass is a common prairie grass and is grown on marginal farmland throughout many parts of North America.
Alliant Energy is testing small portions of the switch grass at its Ottumwa Generating Station in Chillicothe, Iowa, which is co-owned with MidAmerican Energy. If the project reaches its goal, 5 % of the fuel burned at the generating station will be switch grass, eventually adding up to 200,000 tpy burned at the site.
The Chariton Valley Biomass Project is a cooperative effort of government agencies and private sources and is managed by the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation & Development, Centerville, Iowa; a non-profit corporation focused on helping Southern Iowa farmers.
"This renewable energy source will offer every coal-fired generating station a good alternative as governmental policy concerning green fuel changes and as coal gets more expensive to produce," said Martin Braster, project coordinator for the Chariton Valley Biomass Project.

John Deere self-propelled windrowers and square balers harvested the switch grass needed in the experimental phase and John Deere's Ottumwa Works personnel developed the expertise on how and when to best cut and store the annual crop.
"The preliminary results are very positive," said Braster. "The switch grass mixture produces less greenhouse emissions and is a good renewable source of energy. However, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will issue the official test results later this year."
Permanent processing equipment and other hardware as well as storage buildings for the switch grass are being installed now in the project's second phase. Authorities hope to make harvesting the grass a valid commercial enterprise for Southern Iowa farmers by 2004-2005.

Switch grass was chosen because it has a high-energy output when properly harvested. Iowa State University is testing the impact of harvests on the environment, including water runoff, wildlife, and soil stress. The initial success of the Chariton Valley Biomass Project has been encouraging for similar projects in Alabama and Pennsylvania that were initiated over a year ago.
John Deere is the world leader in producing agricultural equipment with a 100-year-plus history in hay and foraging expertise at the John Deere Ottumwa Works.

Source: PR Newswire
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