Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Fred Strohl (strohlhf@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL program, researcher receive award for project

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 4, 1996 — The Biofuels Feedstock Development Program of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Dr. Mark Downing, an economist in the program, have received the WesMin Resource Conservation and Development Council's 1995 Outstanding Project Award for the Minnesota Wood Energy Scale-up Project.

The WesMin council is based in Alexandria, Minn., and is one of 277 regional councils supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It serves as a catalyst to initiate and/or provide assistance with community development projects in a 14-county area of Minnesota.

Downing and the ORNL program were cited for work on a project demonstrating the technical feasibility of agricultural plantings of tree crops for energy. The project's purpose is to develop data on the cost and effectiveness of different methods of planting and managing large-scale plantings of short-rotation woody crops.

The largest project of its kind to date, 1,850 acres of hybrid poplar trees were planted on parts of 18 different farms within a 50-mile radius of Alexandria. Other agencies and organizations supporting the work include the Electric Power Research Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources.

During the course of the project, Downing has directed the collection, assessment and dissemination of information about the operational costs, requirements, risks and other production considerations. Downing continues to facilitate collection of actual farm-level production data on farm fields from 50 to 300 acres. The land being used is Conservation Reserve Program land which is being recontracted for five-year extensions to allow farmers to grow hybrid poplar. The entire scope of the project includes a crop rotation with harvest of seven to 10 years that will provide information about developing energy and fiber markets in specific regions of Minnesota.

Biomass is plant material grown specifically for fiber or energy and the waste derived from plants, such as sawdust, wood wastes and agricultural wastes. Biomass can be used directly as a solid fuel to produce heat or electricity or converted to other forms of energy such as liquid and gaseous fuels.

Poplar trees, similar to other forms of biomass such as willow and switchgrass, are proposed to be used as renewable inputs to produce electric power, transportation fuels and fiber. Perennial biomass energy crops such as hybrid poplar are anticipated to provide multiple benefits across agricultural, environmental and energy sectors. They will provide an alternative income to farmer-producers, offer sustainable cropping options that protect soils from erosion and add habitat and biodiversity to the landscape. They will also provide a much-needed reliable and renewable alternative to dependence on foreign oil imports and fossil fuels.

An agricultural economist in ORNL's Energy Division, Downing has also held a post-doctoral fellowship with ORNL's Environmental Sciences Division. He received a bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Vermont, a master's degree in agricultural economics from the University of Tennessee and a doctorate in agricultural economics from Texas A&M University.

Downing and his family reside in Oak Ridge.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp.