NY energy crop project to develop regional bioenergy model

By Anna Austin
Posted Sept. 9, 2009

A project in central New York aims to provide necessary data to those interested in growing energy crops or embracing them as fuel source, which includes estimates of total suitable land available by biomass type as well as the estimated cost and volume of shrub willow and various grasses that could be available to energy users in a specific region.

The project was launched in June and is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute, a farmer-led nonprofit organization based in Syracuse, N,Y., that supports projects that help farmers improve profitability. The NYFVI receives funds from state legislature and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Central New York Land Management and State University of New York College of Environment Science and Forestry are executing the project, which will work with rural landowners and crop farmers in a five-county region centered in Madison County, N.Y., to develop arrangements adequate for supplying mid-sized consumers of energy crops for heat and power production.

The project will build on previous work performed by SUNY ESF and CNYLM to assess the potential commercial availability of cropped and forest biomass in the central part of the state, but will take that work further by developing crop budgets and model business arrangements between biomass customers, producers and landowners, according to Timothy Volk, senior research associate at SUNY ESF.

A project advisory committee made up of crop farmers from the area will help develop realistic crop budgets and business approaches to be reviewed by 100 landowners, selected at random from those who volunteer to participate in the study phase of the project. A steering committee drawn from county government and others that are developing projects at Morrisville State College and Colgate University will provide overall project guidance.

This first phase of the project will provide a solid estimate of total suitable land availability by biomass type, according to project leader Dan Conable. The groups are looking for options that may be attractive to a large enough number of farmers and landowners to provide the supply security that energy customers are looking for, he added.

Conable told Biomass Magazine that some examples of customers of whom the project applies to are those interested in installing distributed heat for a college or group of municipal buildings, or a combined-heat-and-power system for a manufacturing facility. "The project steering committee includes representatives of Morrisville State College, which has a feasibility study for a biomass heat and power plant underway, and Colgate University, which has met most of its heat requirement with a wood chip boiler for more than a decade," he said. "We've developed a fairly innovative approach to figuring out 'what it will take' to get enough committed production to make projects of this sort feasible, and this will be our second project using this methodology, which is particularly useful in parts of he country where much of the land that could be producing biomass crops is owned by non-farmers."

The NYFVI is also a funder of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' bioenergy feedstock project, which was initiated to identify perennial grass and legume feedstocks that will provide the quantity and quality of biomass needed to support the emerging bioenergy industry in New York.