A Penchant for Pellets
By Rick Steelhammer
The Charleston Gazette
INSTITUTE, W.Va. — A program taking shape through a collaboration between Bridgemont Community and Technical College, West Virginia State University and the Capitol Conservation District will demonstrate how long-stem grasses grown on marginal farmland can be turned into fuel for heating homes and businesses.
Last week, a small pellet mill owned by Bridgemont’s Sustainability Institute, on loan to West Virginia State’s agricultural research station during a building renovation at Bridgemont’s Montgomery campus, converted a tub full of switchgrass into half-inch pellets similar in size and shape to those used in pellet stoves.
Switchgrass, a prairie grass species native to West Virginia and much of the rest of North America, can grow to a height beyond six feet. This batch was raised at the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Appalachian Plant Materials Center at Alderson.
Before WVSU research station employees Chris Postalwait and Jason Rogers fed the dried grass into the pellet mill, it was run through the research station’s hammer mill to crush it into a near powder. Since switchgrass lacks the lignin polymer content of wood or woody-stemmed fuel plants, a quantity of distillers’ dried grains, or DDG — a byproduct of the brewing industry — is added to make the pellets more durable.