Tallgrass Prairie Center

Linking Nutrient Reduction Practices with Biomass Energy

The conservation practices of planting prairie strips on the agricultural landscape and covering unprofitable land back to natural areas have true potential to mitigate Iowa's soil erosion, water quality, and pollinator habitat problems. Although a number of "early adopters" have seen the long term promise of this practice and planted prairie strips on their property, at this point widespread implementation has not been achieved. To get to that point, farmers will likely need a combination of incentives, and using aboveground prairie biomass as a heating fuel could be one such incentive that could make prairie strips start to make sense to more farmers.

Prairie biomass appears to have good potential to be utilized as a heating fuel for rural buildings such as greenhouses, workshops, and animal confinements. These buildings are mostly currently heated with propane, and although the price of propane is currently quite low, propane prices are subject to spike with little or no notice. Prairie biomass harvested from prairie strips would provide a stable energy source with little potential for price volatility.

Read our report, which outlines options for prairie biomass harvesting, storage, processing, and conversion equipment. It also provides a payback period calculator to analyze a range of scenarios of biomass production and processing costs versus the cost of propane.