By Jake Miller
Integrated Biomass Supply Systems, IBSS, one of the seven USDA AFRI coordinated agriculture projects has been working with biomass supply company Genera Energy on biomass storing methods.
Tennessee based Genera Energy, founded in 2008, supplies biomass feedstocks for advanced biofuels and bioproducts. They focus in crop management. This means they assist aspiring switchgrass producers in getting the most out of their fields, in terms of biomass produced and profit made.
IBBS researchers have teamed up with Genera Energy to study the effects of different switchgrass storing techniques. With the help of local farmers, Genera was able to secure eleven unique fields, growing three unique strains of switchgrass, for researchers to evaluate. Using multiple fields gave researchers a broader picture of what baling methods work best for unique areas. In addition to this, Genera assisted in establishing the switchgrass crops to ensure a quality product for IBBS researchers to work with.
“Genera worked with farmers from production through harvest,” said Nikki Labbe, IBBS researcher at the University of Tennessee.
Researchers analyzed core samples from square bales, round bales, chopped materials, covered bales, and uncovered bales to determine the highest quality product in the end. Bales were stored in their respective conditions for six months and sampled monthly throughout that time.
The goal was to find ways to prevent biomass degradation, something that limits the economic viability of bioenergy crops, and to create models that could later be used to predict a given plant’s chemical composition, explained Labbe. Chemical compositions are essential in understanding the quality of a crop and how well it could potentially work for bioenergy.
“Ash works as a catalyst, but not in a good way,” said Labbe. Ash content, the mineral product left over from combustion, is something that IBBS researchers are focusing on. A high ash content is detrimental for two reasons. One being that ash is not utilized later on, meaning that a crop with a high ash content is not worth as much as one with a low content. Second, a high ash content can lead to erosion or clogging of lab equipment. IBBS researchers found that compacting biomass, using a machine similar to a trash compacter, can lead to a lower ash content and increase sugar content.
IBBS is able to effectively research proper storage methods for dry biomass, ultimately leading to higher quality biomass, through Genera Energy’s crop management system.