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Q: Why is it recommended to overwinter switchgrass in the field before harvesting?
A: Ash content and composition of fuel is critical for many pellet appliances. Overwintering switchgrass lowers ash content by leaching of the forage and loss of plant components that are higher in ash (inflorescence and leaves). This produces a fuel with characteristics more like wood, but will also result in yield loss of 20% up to 50%. Warm-season grasses (switchgrass, indiangrass, big bluestem etc.) start growth late in the spring and do not mature until later in the season. There is little opportunity to cut these grasses in the fall, allow them to leach, and then bale in a dry state. There is generally ample opportunity to harvest last year’s growth the following spring before new growth resumes. Pelleting this material may be problematic.

For more Frequently Asked Questions, see our FAQ.

 

Why consider grasses as biofuel?

Reed canarygrass ready to harvest

It takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass pellet fuel.

It takes 70 million years to grow a crop of fossil fuel.

Grass pellets have great potential as a low-tech, small-scale, environmentally-friendly, renewable energy system that can be locally produced, locally processed and locally consumed. As the US focuses on energy security, grass bioenergy is one of the ways that rural communities can move towards energy security. New York State has about 1.5 million acres of unused or underutilized agricultural land, most of which is already growing grass.

Grass biofuel production does not need to divert any of the current agricultural productivity into the energy market; this biomass industry can be completely independent from, but complimentary to, the production of food or animal feed. It is also a very “farmer-friendly” way to get producers exposed to biofuel production. Some research and development is needed to optimize stoves and boilers for grass combustion, and to minimize emissions.

Grass Bioenergy Attributes