Switchgrass used to fuel power plant

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Officials from East Kentucky Power Cooperative and the University of Kentucky demonstrated switchgrass’ feasibility as an alternative energy form as it was combined with coal to generate electricity at East Kentucky Power’s Spurlock Station, Maysville.

This was believed to be the first time switchgrass was used as fuel for a power plant in Kentucky.

The switchgrass was mixed with the coal feedstock, replacing one to two percent of the coal normally used.

Energy potentials

East Kentucky Power will continue to study switchgrass’ energy potentials, and could possibly increase the percentage of switchgrass used to three to 10 percent.

The test is part of an innovative four-year pilot project conducted by University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture to determine if switchgrass can be grown sustainably and economically in Kentucky.

A grant to the Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board is funding the project.

Evaluating options

University researchers are working with 20 farmers in northeast Kentucky to evaluate options for planting, growing, harvesting, transporting and processing the switchgrass.

Each farmer manages a five-acre plot which university forage specialists helped them establish.

The forage specialists believe if this project is successful, switchgrass could provide a great opportunity for producers in this area to diversify their agricultural operations as well as generate additional income.

Seven plots were established in 2007, and the remaining 13 were planted in 2008. The switchgrass was planted during the spring and matured until the first killing frost.

After that frost, the plots were mowed, and the switchgrass was baled like hay. About 70 tons of switchgrass were harvested this fall.

Spurlock Station

The bales were transported to Spurlock Station, where university representatives used a tub grinder to further process the switchgrass for handling by the power plant’s coal conveyer system.

One of Spurlock Station’s generating units features circulating fluidized bed technology that allows it to burn a wide range of fuels, including switchgrass.

In April, East Kentucky Power Cooperative plans to bring online a second unit at Spurlock Station featuring this technology.

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