Willow plantation to feed NY boiler
January 8, 2012, Geneva, NY - Prospects for meeting energy needs with locally grown biomass are heating up on a Cornell campus, where local buildings will get heat from the crop.
By Scott Jamieson
According to a university release, Associate professor of horticulture Larry Smart's shrub willow
bioenergy program is celebrating two milestones: a new $950,000 grant
for breeding willow and installation of a boiler that will heat two
buildings at Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
(NYSAES) in Geneva with willow biofuel produced right on campus.
"Willow is a renewable fuel option for people currently facing the
high costs of heating with oil or propane," Smart said. "The scale of
our demonstration plots and the new boiler would be appropriate for many
businesses, municipalities, school districts, farms or non-farming
A recent land use assessment for the Northeast estimated that there
are more than 6.9 million acres of idle or surplus agricultural land
that is suitable for perennial bioenergy crop cultivation, without
displacing acreage needed for food or feed production.
According to Smart, shrub willow has many advantages for filling
those acres. Able to thrive on marginal, poorly drained land not
suitable for other crops, shrub willows are also long-lived and nearly
self-sufficient once established.
"Stands can be reharvested every two to three years for more than 25
winters without replanting," added Smart. "After the initial 18 months,
they need essentially no herbicide or pesticide applications and require
only a small amount of fertilizer — much less than corn, which is
currently the source for most of the bio-ethanol used to fuel cars."
Smart aims to breed new, improved willow cultivars that are better
able to withstand pests and environmental stresses, have higher yields
and a chemical composition tweaked to maximize ethanol production.
He is putting willow biofuel to the test in a 750,000 Btu biomass
boiler recently installed on the NYSAES campus with funding from a
$405,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development
Authority. The boiler will be fueled by wood chips harvested every two
years from some 20 acres of willow growing on Cornell farms, at a
fraction of the cost of fossil fuels.
The willow biofuel plots were planted by project collaborator Double A
Willow of Fredonia, N.Y., with funding from the New York Farm Viability
Institute (NYFVI), a farmer-led nonprofit group that supports projects
that are models for profitable innovations in farming.