Fuel for the fast-growing pellet-stove industry is in short supply, and forages could help fill the void, believes Jerry Cherney, Cornell University agronomist. He points out that a dwindling supply of sawdust has created a scarcity of wood pellets, and corn, the other traditional pellet-stove fuel, has gotten expensive. In five years of work with grass pellets, Cherney has found that they compare favorably with other types of pellets. He says grass pellets have 96% of the Btus of high-quality wood pellets and emit up to 90% less greenhouses gas. He's burned pellets made from timothy, orchardgrass, goldenrod, switchgrass, reed canarygrass and wheat and barley straw.
But grass pellets have a higher ash content than wood pellets or corn, and create clinkers (hard chunks of debris) that are difficult to remove from stoves. Pellet stoves would have to be modified to accommodate them, and stove manufacturers are showing a willingness to do that, says Cherney.
For more on his research, and the latest on a Missouri cooperative building a $6.6 million facility to make pellets from low-quality hay and other forages, watch for the March issue of Hay & Forage Grower.