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JEA, one of the largest publicly-owned water, wastewater, and power utilities in the United States, intends to become one of the leading “clean power” utilities in the country. They have also committed to significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loadings to the St. Johns River since the river was designated as an American Heritage River in 1999.

In light of these commitments, JEA implemented a pilot project in 1998 to investigate the viability of using irrigated, short-rotation-intensive-culture (SRIC) methods to produce woody and herbaceous biomass for co-firing in their coal-fired power plants. The 19-acre demonstration project located next to their District 2 Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) became fully operational in 2001. Approximately 15 acres of the site, now formally designated as the Biomass Energy Research Farm (BERF), are planted in a variety of woody and herbaceous species. Approximately 10,000 trees consisting of four fast-growing hardwood trees (eastern cottonwood , hybrid poplar , yellow poplar , sycamore ) and loblolly pine (LL) were planted in April 2001. In June 2002, four fast-growing, grass species (Giant Reed , ventricosa bamboo , bambos bamboo , and Alamo switchgrass) were planted on approximately one acre of the site that had previously been planted in YP.

After two growing seasons for the tree species and one growing season for the grass species, GR has the highest average above-ground biomass yield (2.2 dry tons per acre or 4.9 metric tons per hectare) of any species. Eastern cottonwood had the highest growth rate of any tree species, outpacing both hybrid poplar clones, which had the highest estimated growth rates in the first growing season. The highest yielding plot of EC achieved an estimated annualized production rate of approximately 3 DT/ac/yr (6.7 Mt/ha/yr). Based on this preliminary data, GR and EC appear to be early front-runners as the most desirable biomass crop for the North Florida area. Giant Reed yields are expected to increase in 2003 as stand density increases. Destructive sampling and measurement of tree biomass will begin in 2003 so more accurate data will be available to compare yield differences of all species.

Overall, JEA is pleased with the initial growth rates and performance observed on the BERF and is excited about the potential of this technology to provide added reuse capacity for its WRFs and biomass to meet “green power” goals. Based on results from the first two years of operation, EC appears to be the preferred woody specie for the North Florida area, while Giant Reed appears to be a promising grass biomass specie. JEA intends to collect data from the BERF for at least 4 growing seasons before making final decisions concerning the full-scale viability of this technology.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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