Switchgrass once grew abundantly in the soils of southern Iowa’s rolling hills simply because the two were well suited. This natural companionship, along with the excellent burn qualities of switchgrass, created interest in the potential of growing the plant on marginal land as an alternative energy crop that would provide significant local environmental benefits and a new sustainable income for area farmers. Evaluating this possibility was the Chariton Valley Biomass Project, which was coordinated by Chariton Valley RC&D Inc., in Centerville, Iowa. The original project feasibility study was conducted in 1996. Based on results of that study, project partners submitted a proposal to the Biomass Power for Rural Development solicitation from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass Power program. The project was competitively selected as one of the three awardees to receive further Federal funding. The Biomass Power for Rural Development program was a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture aimed at demonstrating and deploying integrated biomass power systems that are economically and environmentally viable and sustainable.
The stated expectations of the Biomass Power for Rural Development projects were:
- Demonstration of integrated biomass supply system with power conversion technologies;
- Introduction of alternative energy crops as a means to offset federal agricultural subsidy payments;
- Economic revitalization of rural America and job creation;
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
- Improvements in biodiversity and ecological health; and
- Creation of a U.S. industry with significant export potential.
The objectives stated above are even more important today than they were when the Biomass Power for Rural Development solicitation was issued. The Chariton Valley Biomass Project, through its wide range of research, demonstration, and development efforts, has shown that it is capable of meeting all of the expectations mentioned above. The project’s efforts are now focused on completing the final stage of the demonstration program, a 2000 hour continuous cofire test burn of switchgrass with coal at Ottumwa Generating Station. Following successful completion of the demonstration program, project partners will focus on establishing the first commercially operating switchgrass-to-electricity business in the United States. Significant progress towards establishing this commercial business has already been made and will continue.For more background information on the project, please see the following links: