Using a 2009 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, cost-effective methods for handling, processing and storing chopped switchgrass have been developed by Genera Energy, Inc. and the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

The university and private company were awarded nearly $5 million to research and develop economical systems for bulk-handling and processing of chopped switchgrass. The goal was to reduce the costs of baling in the field and subsequent bale grinding for providing feedstocks to be used in advanced biofuels, biopower, and biochemical industries.

Genera Energy Inc., Vonore, Tenn., advertises itself as a recognized innovator in sustainable biomass feedstock advancements and supply chain improvements.

“Through this grant and by collaborating with Genera Energy, we’ve been able to evaluate existing switchgrass supply logistics and to develop ground-breaking systems that offer better and more cost-effective methods for handling, processing, and storing chopped switchgrass,” said Al Womac, Ph.D.,  professor of biosystems engineering and soil science with UTIA and the project leader.

“The funding began in 2009 and in that time we have been able to create and produce a fully-replicable system that saves money and time and which is logistically superior to traditional baling,” Womac added.

Funds from the grant were used by Genera Energy to add a bulk-format handling and research equipment to its existing Biomass Innovation Park facility, implementing new technology best engineered to supply processed switchgrass within specification at the lowest cost. Genera’s added capabilities are unique in that they allow it to receive, convey, store, reclaim, discharge and compact bulk-format switchgrass automatically with an effective, integrated system.

Using scientific data collected during the research phases UTIA and Genera were able to develop innovative systems that were based on detailed analysis of switchgrass harvest and handling equipment and logistical efficiencies as well as material characteristics such as weight, particle size, bulk density, moisture content and other factors. Software was also developed to calculate effective field capacity, field efficiency, machine utilization and system limiting factors.

“Our collaboration with the University of Tennessee in the development of new feedstock logistics systems using chopped switchgrass has culminated in a first-of-its-kind system,” said Genera Energy President and CEO Kelly Tiller, Ph.D. “By working with our partners over the last several years, we’ve developed a fully-functioning and innovative biomass feedstock bulk supply chain. And in the process we are creating sustainable biomass feedstock systems that can be replicated on a larger scale, something we only imagined when Genera was first envisioned.”