Under the scorching sun on a May afternoon, workers wipe the sweat from their brows between pounding 10-inch greenish-yellow stems into the soil on a patch of land at the West Virginia University Agronomy Farm. It’s one of many sites – not just in West Virginia but surrounding states – where visions of a future fueled by biomass are engrained into mainly forgotten lands. It’s a vision of alternative fuels and safer, sustainable products, all at an economical price-point. In the Mid-Atlantic region alone, more than 8.5 million acres of mined and marginal agricultural property are primed for reclamation, said Jingxin Wang, professor of wood science and technology. Left alone, it’ll remain vast, empty space.
But Wang’s got a tall task: Lead a multi-state, multi-university project – funded by a $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant – that aims to revitalize and reinvent these regional lands with biomass, which is growing plants to be used for energy, heat, bioproducts and other practical applications.
Those greenish-yellow stems plunged into the ground at the Morgantown farm? They’re hybrid willow cuttings, a short-rotation woody biomass crop developed by the State University of New York and Cornell University.
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