Cornell University Crop and Soil Sciences Professor Dr. Jerry Cherney is evaluating the potential for a closed-loop, regional renewable-energy system that makes marginal farmland productive, creates local jobs, lowers greenhouse-gas emissions and helps reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
Since 2006, Cherney has developed and conducted on-farm research in response to the farmer-driven program’s interest in producing bioenergy with grasses harvested from regional farmland that is not otherwise productive.
“A closed-loop system that would supply the Northern New York region with a homegrown heating resource created from grasses produced, processed into pellets or briquettes, and marketed locally would greatly reduce the use of non-renewable fuel sources, would lower greenhouse gas emissions, help farms reduce energy costs, improve soil health, maintain open spaces and generate rural jobs,” Cherney said.
“The goal is to determine a process for identifying which mulch-type hay is appropriate for all scales of biomass combustion and/or which types would be better used for light industrial and industrial heating applications.”
Cherney is specifically focused on three species with high-yield potential and on the impact of soil type, soil moisture and fertility management on the yield and composition of switchgrass, reedcanarygrass and tall fescue as bioenergy feedstocks. The end use of the harvested grasses impacts how the crops’ potential is evaluated. For example, mixed-species stands may not work very well for ethanol production that requires uniform feedstock but would work fine for heating combustion use.
In a separate project, Cornell Associate Professor of Horticulture Larry Smart is establishing a shrub willow trial at the Cornell Willsboro Research Farm to evaluate varieties and to test new methods for more sustainable site conversion and crop establishment in typical Norther New York fields.