Lower Hudson-Long Island RC&D Project, Inc.

The Lower Hudson-Long Island Resource Conservation & Development Council, under the leadership of Joe Heller (p: 845-883-7162 x104, f: 845-883-7184, e: joseph.heller@ny.usda.gov) and with assistance from SUNY Cobleskill, has developed a mobile grass pelletizer. The students of SUNY Cobleskill have played a very large part in the development of the pelletizer. They designed it, built it, and helped the project come to fruition. Students broke up into groups to work on different aspects of the project.

Most of their equipment was bought used. Its components include: a ten-year old diesel truck, purchased at $25,000; a 240 kilowatt diesel generator purchased at $10,000; a refurbished, 40-year old dual speed California Pellet Mill 150 (reported to run like new); A Schutte Buffalo 1340 hammer mill purchased for $18,000; a $10,000 cooling tower; a $7,000 20 ton trailer with air breaks; and $10,000 worth of electrical wiring (all costs estimated).

The pellet mill is rated to put out two tons per hour, which Heller expects to reach within a few weeks. Right now it is operating at about one ton per hour. They have been experiencing various technical difficulties, particularly dealing with excessive amounts of dusts resulting from their blowers, and so, the pelletizer has not yet left SUNY Cobleskill. However, within the next few weeks the pelletizer is intended to begin traveling throughout the Lower Hudson-Long Island region, where it will stop at various farms to convert whatever types of grasses a farmer has into efficient pellets. As of now, there are ten farmers directly associated with the NY Farm Viability Institute grants, in Orange, Ulster, and Dutchess Counties.

Predominantly switchgrass and reed canary grass have been used, in addition to mulch hay and other high-valued forage crops that have gone bad due to heavy rain or other factors (e.g. timothy, alfalfa). Heller reports that grasses must be palletized at between 7 and 12% moisture. The higher the moisture content, he says, the less successful the pelletizing process.

As of now, the plan is for farmers to use the pellets to heat their greenhouses, or as hot water for washing down their dairy barns. Some will also use them to heat their homes. In the future, partnerships will be created with local pellet stove distributors to sell the pellets, and they will be sold at roadside stands and farmers' markets as well. A grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute has made it possible for LH-LI RC&D to hire two employees to work on the project fulltime. One, a project manager planned to begin work at the end of July, will work to make connections with farmers to help them begin to start pelletizing grasses, and to help them make connections with pellet dealers. Encouraging local dealers to sell grass pellets at their stores is one of the main components of the project. Many of the small pellet dealers have lost a lot of customers to bigger companies as there has been a shortage of wood pellets. Interest in selling grass pellets is large.

The farmers pay for processing of their material. Grant money is subsidizing the cost, as the farmers currently have to pay on $25 per ton for processing, but after the two year grant has ended the cost will rise to $50. According to Heller, farmers could produce a ton of pellets for $100-150, and sell it for about $200-300 (the going rate for wood pellets). The average farmer, then, would be making about $100 per ton of grass pellets. One of the benefits to growing grass for biomass rather than willow, according to Heller, is that many farmers already have equipment for harvesting grasses. Willow would be potentially less profitable, as they would have to both grow the willow and get new equipment.

As part of all of the grants LH-LI RC&D is receiving, they are required to do a technology transfer. This means that people will be able to access blueprints of the equipment, in addition to an operations manual that has been begun by SUNY Cobleskill students, and a Fields to Furnish guide. Because of this, Heller believes the setup will be able to be reproduced extremely easily, especially since all of the equipment was purchased, and not built.

Last updated October 8, 2015