Interest from the electric generation utilities to co-fire biomass with coal provided the inital interest in developing willow as such a product. Fast growing willow clones can be grown on marginal agricultural land and provide a unique energy source. Agricultural land that is no longer in use can become productive. Traditional and independent energy producers, as well as owners of "retired" and active farm land, are interested in the potential for biomass production. Biomass production with willow requires the development and adaption of equipment for production and harvesting.
The development and evaluation of planting and harvesting equipment for willow crops has been the focus of this project. The development of an equipment base for this industry is an important part of the continued development of the concept. Work has been initiated with manufacturers of specialized harvesting equipment in England to create specialized heads, which are fitted to traditional harverters to provide chipped wood products. There are available planters already on the market but there is a need to develop modified or new planting machines to faciliate willow crop planting.
Impact of this research has already generated interest from farmers, power companies and landowners. Progress has made in developing equipment to enhance the viability of a new agricultural product -- willow -- that could be grown on marginal land, as well as a new biomass energy generation industry. Willow is an advantagous biomass crop because once it is planted, it will grow for 20 or more years and can be harvested every three to four years. The agricultural operations of planting and harvesting would most likely be carried out by a company associated with final use of the product.