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Willow Shrub Biomass project’s commercial value on the horizon

It’s taken them more than two decades, but SUNY ESF is ready to take a big step forward with its Willow Shrub Biomass energy project – moving from research to commercialization.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - It’s taken them more than two decades, but SUNY ESF is ready to take a big step forward with its Willow Shrub Biomass energy project – moving from research to commercialization.

The plants don’t look any more significant than overgrown shrubs, but researchers at SUNY ESF believe they could mean jobs and a renewable source of energy.

ReEngergy Holdings has committed to purchasing all the willow grown over 1,200 acres in the region for the next decade – which is one of the key early hurdles to getting landowners on board with growing the willow shrubs.

"Okay I've got a guaranteed market, they'll buy it all, so I know where its going and I know someone will take it so that gives me the market surety. The other big risk with this system from a landowner point of view is the upfront cost, its expensive to put this stuff in the ground,” said SUNY ESF Senior Research Associate Tim Volk.

Willow shrub cost $600 per acre to plant – much more than most other crops – but they only need to be planted once every 20 or 25 years.

Researchers say, however, that they are still trying to determine the best kind of willow shrub for commercialization.

Volk says that, in addition to commercial potential of the willow shrub as a renewable source of energy, there's also another benefit for the region, job creation.

"Which means using local people in the region to grow it, to move it, and at the end use facility to turn it into energy we can all use,” he said.

Volk said they will continue to study and learn from the shrubs in hopes of building the supply chain and then move on to widespread commercialization.

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