Switchgrass to Alleviate Coal Emissions

It’s not an entirely renewable operation but Southern Company is now using switchgrass and other local grasses formed into small cubes to generate electricity. The grass cubes are being mixed with coal at Southern Company’s Plant Mitchell, near Albany, Georgia. Mitchell is owned and operated by the company’s Georgia Power subsidiary.

Atlanta, Georgia – June 3, 2003 [] Switchgrass is a native prairie grass grown easily in the South, and when blended with coal as a fuel can reduce power plant emissions. Initial testing of switchgrass was conducted at Southern Company’s Alabama Power Gadsden Steam Plant in the spring of 2001. Results showed switchgrass not only to be a potential energy source but also emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury were reduced. Based on the successful results achieved earlier from the switchgrass co- firing at Plant Gadsden, Southern Company has committed to a three-year demonstration of biomass co-firing at that plant, located in Gadsden, Ala. Switchgrass, along with other biomass fuels, will be tested in order to improve on initial test results, as well as to gain more knowledge of biomass co-firing. “We’ve seen favorable results testing switchgrass as a potential energy source,” said Charles Goodman, Southern Company senior vice president of research and environmental affairs. “As Southern Company diversifies its fuel portfolio to meet future energy demands, biomass, such as switchgrass, is just one of several options we are currently testing that may be beneficial in a low-cost, environmental-friendly way.” The testing at Plant Mitchell uses two kinds of pelletized grass; coastal Bermuda grass from Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., and switchgrass from Alabama that was grown on 300 acres of farmland near Lincoln and Winterboro. If used as an energy crop, switchgrass could provide farmers with maximum yields and returns at minimal costs. Plant Mitchell received 170 tons of the switchgrass cubes to be pulverized and blended with varying amounts of coal to determine the most efficient mixture. Southern Company is hoping that the compressed switchgrass co-firing at Plant Mitchell can be done without having to inject the grass separately as required in the initial testing at Plant Gadsden. Last year, Plant Gadsden’s switchgrass pilot project won environmental awards from the Electric Power Research Institute and the Southeastern Electric Exchange.