Sustainable grass energy pellets for the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,378.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Daniel Ciolkosz
Penn State Ag & Bio Engineerin

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: Switchgrass


  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This partnership project will meet the need for practical guidance in growing and producing renewable, sustainable grass pellet fuel on the farm. We will carry out a careful investigation of the operations at Wood Crest Farm in Wapwallopen PA, and create a case study document that shares methods, techniques, economics, and lessons learned in the process of getting started as a grass pellet maker. This information will be extremely helpful for farmers wishing to produce renewable grass energy in the Northeast, and will be distributed both in print and electronic formats, through Penn State Extension, E-Extension and the Grass Energy Cooperative.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Information collection will be carried out via personal interviews of grass pellet manufacturers, examination of facility billing records, and measurement of equipment performance.

    Interviews of farm-based pellet producer Will Brandau will be a key component of this project, allowing for capture of experiential learning and understanding that could not otherwise be collected. This includes tips for successful growing, handling, and processing of perennial grass for pellet manufacture. While this is not strictly scientific information, its value as an empirical basis for farm energy operations is great, and will allow other farmers to avoid mistakes and reduce the pain of the “learning curve” associated with launching a new venture. Recounting problems that were encountered, as well as the approach used to find solutions, will be an outstanding model for encouraging successfully innovative farm energy efforts. This will be carried out at the farm site.

    Facility records will be another important data source for the project, providing information on past years’ methodologies, yields, and costs.

    Lastly, direct measurements will be taken of equipment operation (pellet yield rate, electrical and/or fuel use, labor requirements, moisture content, resulting pellet density) for the pelletizing operation as well as for upstream pre-processing operations. These measurements will be taken at the farm site, except as noted below. Measurements will be taken as follows:

    Pellet yield rate: physical measurement of the volume of pellets produced over a given period of time, plus measurement of bulk density of the pellets. Bulk density measurement will require taking a standard sized sample to the university for mass measurement.
    Electricity Use: Power use will be monitored using clamp-on current transducer dataloggers for long term measurements, coupled with short term true RMS power readings from a hand held power meter (both available from the university).

    Fuel Use: Fuel use will be measured by filling the fuel tank on the engine, running the equipment for an allotted period of time, then measuring the amount of fuel needed to re-fill the tank. Fuel use is a normal part of farm operations, and is thus not included in the project budget.
    Labor Requirements: Labor requirements will be determined by interviewing the farmers, and by observing operations in progress at the farm.

    Moisture Content: Moisture Content of the pellets will be determined by taking a small (~100g) sample of pellets to the university, measuring the mass of a sample, placing it in a drying oven for 24 hours, then measuring the mass of the dried sample, as per ASABE Standard S269 - Cubes, Pellets, and Crumbles—Definitions and Methods for Determining Density, Durability, and Moisture.

    Pellet Density: Pellet density will be measured at the university using an evacuated bag submersion technique, as outlined in ASABE Standard S269.

    This information will be disseminated via the Penn State Extension renewable energy extension team, “youtube”, and the e-extension Sustainable Farm Energy community of practice ( Penn State Extension’s renewable energy web site ( will serve as a conduit for the results of the project, as will the grass energy cooperative website. This information will be distributed at major agricultural events in Pennsylvania, including Ag Progress Days and the PA Farm Show. In addition, it will be provided in response to individual inquiries made to Penn State Extension educators in the course of their normal program efforts. Findings from this project will also be utilized in Penn State Extension’s “Renewable Energy Academy” – a workshop series devoted to renewable energy issues for agriculture and rural communities.

    After the project period is complete, we hope to continue to track inquiries on this subject, collecting information on the impact of the project in the farm community. In the long term, our hope is that, we will be able to add information from other farm operations and expand this case study into a comprehensive grass pellet production guide for the region.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.