Biomass pellets have been used across the country to run boilers in office buildings and schools, and to generate electricity, she said.
Shepherd, who announced her candidacy for state agriculture commissioner last week, is one of three Capitol Conservation District farmers growing stands of miscanthus on marginal land -- land not suitable for crops, hay or pasture. A fourth test plot is growing on a reclaimed surface mine.
At Shepherd's Sissonville farm, the perennial grass grows up to 12 feet tall before becoming dormant in October. While miscanthus sheds its leaves in the fall, its tall cane-like stalks remain standing, ready to harvest as biofuel after they dry.
"I can see people growing it in areas that they're now brush-hogging several times a year," Shepherd said. Farmers could use haymaking equipment to harvest and bale the biomass grasses for transport to pellet plants, she said.
The WVSU Research Station has planted a small stand of miscanthus to provide rootstock for growers interested in planting it.
Wood pellets, made with sawdust from sawmills, are the primary source of fuel for pellet stoves. In recent years, though, several wood pellet shortages have occurred, due to a downturn in sawmill production in response to the housing market collapse and an increasing European demand for American pellets.
"Pellets are an economical heat source, once the stove is paid for," said Kelly Jo Drey, director of the Bridgemont Sustainability Institute. Demonstrating a commercial application for biomass pellets, she said, is in keeping with Bridgemont's mission to promote sustainability and create green jobs.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.