Could grass be burned to make electricity? -, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Could grass be burned to make electricity?

April 28, 2003

Dougherty Co. -- If Georgia Power supplies your electricity in the Albany area, right now your power is being generated by an experimental new process.

Plant Mitchell is burning a blend of wild grass with coal to produce electricity. They are testing to see if it could be a hot, new power source of the future.

This is the heart of the two thousand degree fire that generates more than 165 megawatts of electricity from Plant Mitchell. Research Engineer Doug Boylan uses this special camera to look into the inferno, now being fueled by switchgrass and coal. Boylan will use Plant Mitchell to see if the mixture of grass and coal will be a more efficient power source.

 Boylan said "When you burn it, it's a renewable energy source. It doesn't contribute to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it's an energy source that replenishes itself every year."

For a week Plant Mitchell has been burning switchgrass or a coastal bermuda grass along with coal to produce electricity. These bulldozers mix the grass together with the coal. About ten percent grass to coal. It's ground into a fine dust, then moved along this conveyor belt to the ten story high boiler. The boiler's heat produces steam to turn the giant turbines at the Plant, producing about two-thirds of Albany's power.

Plant Mitchell Manager Bill Mashburn said "It's an opportunity to test new technology, and carry Plant Mitchell further into the future."

 If Georgia Power decides to continue using switchgrass as a biomass, they could burn 6 to 7 tons a hour. That could bring another agriculture market for South Georgia farmers. Lt. Governor Mark Taylor said "It will hopefully be an alternative crop, an alternative source for some profits from our row crop land, for our livestock farmer. It's got a lot of potential."

If Georgia Power stays with the switchgrass and coal mixture fuel, it could mean better emissions, a renewable energy source, and maybe a hot new crop for farmers.

 The grass has about 50 percent of the heating value of coal per pound. It takes about one acre of grass to provide a kilowatt of power, or about two-thirdes the power a typical home uses in a year.

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