[NEWS] Is Willow the Energy Crop of the Future?

– by Ellen Abbot, June 5, 2016, WRVO


Photo: Ellen Abbot / WRVO

While most central and northern New York crops are being planted right now, there’s one that’s being harvested. SUNY ESF researchers are harvesting willow, as part of a project that continues to find the best way to use the woody plant as an alternative energy source.

When most people hear the word willow, an image of a weeping willow tree comes to mind. But that’s not what SUNY ESF researchers are working on in the Willow Project, a program that’s developing a biomass energy source.

“They are in the same genus, but different species, and the species we are targeting here are in shrub form,” said Justin Heavey, who manages the SUNY ESF willow crops.

“It more or less just grows on its own. I maintain areas the fields to maintain access. And express the vegetation around the actual willow. But other than that once it’s actually established, there’s nothing to maintain,” said Heavey.

Research on willow biomass crops started at SUNY ESF in 1986, and it’s the longest running program in North America. Researchers have planted genetically improved varieties of the perennial shrubs on marginal farm land across the area. The willow grows quickly, and it can be used for biomass production in just three to four years, with three year harvesting cycles after that.

SUNY ESF land managers are harvesting willow in some farmland south of Syracuse on a warm spring day.


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