As demand increases for sustainable and environmentally friendly energy and products, the Mid-Atlantic region with its abundance of forests and abandoned mine land is poised to grow its biomass-based renewable energy and products economy.
With the help of a $10 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, West Virginia University is spearheading the development of a perennial multi-feedstock production system that is sustainable and economically feasible for the region.
At the heart of the project is the establishment of the Mid-Atlantic Sustainable Biomass for Value-Added Products Consortium, a regional group of universities, industry partners, national laboratories and governmental agencies interested in advancing the science and practice of sustainable bioproducts.
“Through previous projects and activities, this team has developed a strong network and working relationship with industry, landowners and policy makers across the region that will be the project’s foundation for success,” said Fred King, vice president for research at WVU. “Renewable energy is an important part of our future and we’re proud to be part of this effort.”
Led by Jingxin Wang, professor of wood science and technology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, MASBio will leverage research, education and extension strategies for increasing utilization of available resources in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“This region has over 10 million acres of mined and marginal agricultural lands that can be reclaimed to produce biomass crops without competing with food crop production for resources,” he said. “Additionally, timber harvest in the area produces more than eight million dry tons of residue annually and will be a foundation for the multi-feedstock biomass.”
Plans include utilizing some of the mined and marginal lands to grow switchgrass, a hardy, self-seeding perennial crop, and hybrid willow, a short-rotation woody crop, which can benefit the land, economy and biomass feedstock production.
“We want to create a circular system of renewable resources where some of the products that are produced from the harvested biomass can be utilized in stormwater management, stream restoration and acid mine drainage restoration which enhances soil and water quality and creates a continuous, sustainable system that is both environmentally and economically feasible,” Wang explained.
When it comes to maintaining a sustainable feedstock supply, the biomass crops will be blended with logging residue wood chips to create a massive regional multi-feedstock biomass supply chain with minimized costs, consistent quality and continuous supply.
That biomass feedstock supply will potentially help create more than 10 news businesses within the bioproduct supply chain and produce value-added products such as bioadhesives, biochemicals, resins for 3D printing, bicarbonate nanomaterials, and other carbon products such as activated carbon and biochar.
“With the knowledge and expertise on our team, we’ll be able to make a significant contribution to further development of the sustainable bioproducts sector,” Wang said.
Other WVU researchers include Robert Burns, Zac Freedman, Shawn Grushecky, Jason Hubbart, Charlene Kelly, Louis McDonald, Dave McGill, Jamie Schuler and Jeff Skousen from the Davis College; Debangsu Bhattacharyya, John (Jianli) Hu and Xin Li from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Binyung Li from the WVU School of Medicine.
Consortium partners include Penn State University, Virginia Tech, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, West Virginia State University, Eastern WV Community and Technical College, U.S. Department of Energy Idaho National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S.Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory and Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Various industry partners will also be involved in the project for commercial scale development and demonstrations including Double-A-Willow, Allstar Ecology, Ernst Biomass, Lignetics, Gas Technology Institute, Norris Thermal Technologies, Torresak and Eastern Biochar.