Alliant Energy Corp.and Prairie Lands Bio-Products Inc. are jointly assessing ways to create a commercially viable market for switchgrass, corn stalks, and similar agricultural products for use as fuel.The energy services provider expects that the products will constitute up to 10% of the fuel source for a proposed 630- MW hybrid plant in Marshalltown, Iowa, cutting substantially into coal burned at the facility.
Prairie Lands, a nonprofit organization whose 60 members are switch grass growers,is evaluating potential environmental,economic, and agricultural benefits of switch grass (a tall native North American grass used for hay and forage)and other such products.The organization is also dentifying cost-effective and efficient methods to harvest, aggregate, process, and deliver alternative fuel stocks to the power plant.
The assessment will build upon successful switchgrass test-burn demonstrations
conducted during the Chariton Valley Biomass Project, a 2006 venture funded by
Alliant and the Department of Energy. That project investigated and emonstrated the technical feasibility,environmental benefits, and potential business viability of cultivating switchgrass to replace a portion of the coal fuel supply at a similar Iowa plant.
According to Alliant’s web site, one of the greater benefits of burning switchgrass is improved air quality due to a natural process: The plant collects CO2 emissions during the growth process and sequesters the greenhouse gas in the ground through its roots. Alliant supposes that a commercial project of 35 MW would require as much as 200,000 tons of biomass from 50,000 acres and that it would involve as many as 500 farmers. The proposed plant, Sutherland Generating Station Unit 4, is expected to be operational by 2013. Alliant is considering incorporating an additional 19-MW equivalent of steam cogeneration in the project for use by nearby industries.