Sustainable grass energy pellets for the Northeast

2014 Annual Report for ONE13-178

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

Sustainable grass energy pellets for the Northeast


This project teamed Penn State Extension with farmer Will Brandau to create and distribute a thorough case study of on-farm grass pellet production, as experienced at Woodcrest Farm in Wapwallopen, PA. The project team gathered information on the experiences and lessons learned in the course of developing the switchgrass pellet operation and participating in the Grass Energy Cooperative. They also collected data on equipment performance, including labor requirements, energy use, and operating time, to be used in an economic analysis of the operation. The information in the case study has been compiled in a thorough report, and will be distributed via print and internet editions.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objective of this project is to investigate operating characteristics of a farm-scale sustainable grass pellet fuel operation, and develop a case study that can be used as a gude for farmers interested in pursuing this opportunity. During the year, information was collected during site visits to the farm facility, including data on crop establishment costs, as well as equipment use for planting and harvesting. The pelleting operation was also analyzied, resulting in data on pellet production rates, feedstock use, inputs, runtimes, and yield.

Several days were spent on the farm during the Spring Harvest, interviewing the farmer and taking measurements of time and equipment needed for field operations, including labor and fuel requirements.

Our analysis of these data were used to create the case study of the operation. Standard machine rates and maintenance requirements, provided by ASABE, were added to the measured data to provide a complete picture of resources and costs needed. The case study has been completed, and is available online at

This 24-page, full color document gives detailed information on equipment, procedures, and costs for producing grass pellets on the farm, starting with field preparation and moving through to pelleting and sales. The farmer’s collected experience and wisdom is sprinkled throughout, providing practical tips as well as technical data on farm pelleting.

As a follow-on to this project, work is underway to prepare a research paper based on the findings from this study, as the results have proven to be a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge on the topic of biomass pellet produciton.

Preliminary presentations on the project were given at Penn State’s Ag Progress Days, a large agricultural education event held every August. In additions, results from this project are being utilized synergistically by a related SARE project (The Farm Energy IQ Professional Development project), in which findings from this project are being utilized in the training material developed for Farm Energy IQ.


The timetable from the proposal is as follows.

June – August 2013: Student intern spends time working with Woodcrest farm, gathering data on pellet production operations. Student prepares draft case study document
Sept – Dec 2013: Case study document is edited and printed, oral presentation prepared that accompanies case study.
Jan – May 2014: Case study is made available in print and online, Webinar delivered, video ported to youtube.

Note, however, that we obtained a 1 year no-cost extension to the project, as things were moving along a little slower than was first hoped. Thus, we have just completed the case study as of December 2014, and plan to deliver the webinar in the first quarter of 2015. We will also be communicating findings of this project at the PA Farm Show in January, and at Farm Energy IQ workshops in Feb, Mar, and April of 2015.

All told, the project is in good shape, and should be complete by the end of April.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Data collected from Wood Crest Farm provide significant insights into the process, resources, and costs associated with on-farm switchgrass production.  The study showed that availability of labor, land, and equipment can have large effects on overall costs, and that improvements to the pelleting operation will significantly improve the cost effectiveness of the operation.   Switchgrass pellet production promises to be cost effective in those situations where farms and farmers can take advantage of favorable scenarios, but establishment of a market remains the most challenging task.


Will Brandau
WoodCrest Farms
31 Smith Mountain Rd
Wapwallopen, PA 18660
Office Phone: 5703792971