February 22, 2008

The buzz these days is all about ethanol. And the buzz when talking about ethanol production is often about corn. But University of Kentucky College of Agriculture researchers have been studying the use of other biomass crops to produce energy. They will share their information March 13 at the Maysville Community and Technical College in a public symposium titled, “Ethanol from Hay and other Biomass Crops: Do They Make Sense for Northeastern Kentucky?”

The term biomass refers to renewable crops that are used for fuel. Often people refer to grain crops in that context. However, Ray Smith, UK forage extension specialist and one of the organizers of the half-day conference, said the focus of these talks will be on the use of forage crops and crop residues to produce ethanol and electricity.

“We’ve got a major project that’s been started through funding with the ag development board to look at the potential for biomass crops,” he said. “So we’re working with 20 farmers in northeast Kentucky to plant switchgrass, a potential biofuels crop. But we realize there’s a lot of general interest in what we’re talking about as biomass crops and in this business of ethanol from cellulose.”

For that reason, the organizers decided to have a seminar that would not only include those 20 producers in the research project, but also anyone from the general public who might be interested in the subject.

The free symposium begins at 8 a.m. and concludes at 12:45 p.m. It is not necessary to register in advance. Joining Smith as speakers are UK Hay Marketing Specialist Tom Keene, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Professor Mike Montross, Chad Lee, UK grain crops extension specialist and Scott Shearer, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering chair. Also included in the morning sessions will be John Seymour, co-owner of Roundstone Native Seed, LLC, Jim Shipp, Spurlock manager of East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Mark Coffman, director of projects and engineering at Alltech Biotechnology.

Discussion topics will include:

 Establishment in Eastern Kentucky

 Storage, Processing and Transportation

 From Grass to Energy: Conversion

 Opportunities and Costs of Removing Crop Residue

 Utilization: Farm to Home and In-between

 Burning biomass for electricity: What are the chances?

 Rural Community Integrated Biorefinery

Smith said the intent is for people to leave the seminar with a greater understanding of the subject of bioenergy.

“I would hope that they will have a feel for not only the hype that it sounds great and it’s going to change the world, but they’ll also see realistic options for growing biomass crops in the short term and in the longer term,” he said. “We’re also hoping that students from nearby colleges and universities will come to gain a perspective of the whole emerging industry.”

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