Environmental Protection

Switchgrass for Home Heating

USDA scientists have been studying the use of switchgrass pellets for heating purposes. According to their research, the pellets could potentially become a cheaper energy source to replace fuel oil used to heat homes and businesses in the Northeast.

Paul Adler, a researcher for the USDA’s lab, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) let the studies on a lifecycle analysis that compared the cost of energy consumption from fuel oil, natural gas, coal, and switchgrass in the form of energy-dense cubes, briquettes, and pellets.  

Analysis indicated that 192 pounds of "carbon dioxide equivalent," or CO2e, was emitted for every ton of switchgrass dry matter that was sown, harvested, and delivered to densification plants for processing into pellets. CO2e is a measurement used to compare the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential.

The researchers calculated that using switchgrass pellets instead of petroleum fuel oil to generate one gigajoule of heat in residences would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 146 pounds of CO2e. Totaling all costs associated with installing an appropriate residential heating system and fuel consumption, the team concluded that each gigajoule of heat produced using switchgrass pellets would cost $21.36. Using fuel oil to produce the same amount of heat would cost $28.22.

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