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Environmental Information Series
The Willow Biomass Project

Willow biomass is an environmentally sound, locally produced, renewable source of energy and bioproducts.

Driven by concerns about global warming, air pollution, rural development and national security, research conduced by SUNY-ESF has reconnected the historic willow cultivation industry to central New York. For almost two decades SUNY-ESF has teamed up with over 20 organizations to facilitate the commercialization of willow crops and other woody biomass for bioenergy and bioproducts in the Northeast and Midwest United States.

Why Willow?

  • Willows are easily propagated from unrooted cuttings.
  • High yields can be obtained in a few years.
  • Willow’s genetic diversity and short breeding cycle can be utilized to produce improved varieties.
  • Willows vigorously resprout after each harvest.
  • The amount of heat in a dry ton of willow is similar to other hardwoods.
  • An array of bark and foliage colors creates opportunities for visually stunning landscape designs.

Producing Willow Biomass

Willow biomass crops increase habitat diversity. They are planted on open, agricultural land, not on cleared forest land.

A crop can be harvested six to seven times before replanting is required. Willow cultivation uses significantly fewer pesticides than traditional agriculture.

Creating Environmentally-friendly Products

Willow biomass products reduce the need for fossil fuels and petroleum products. Willow can be converted into a variety of sustainable environmentally-friendly resources, including:

  • Heat and electricity by direct combustion, co-firing with coal, and gasification
  • Biodegradable plastics and other polymers
  • Biofuels

Beyond Bioenergy & Bioproducts

Willow crops are ideal for a wide range of applications besides bioenergy and bioproducts:

  • Riparian buffers - Natural barriers that prevent chemicals from entering streams, ponds, and lakes.
  • Phytoremediation - Willows clean up toxins from contaminated sites.
  • Living snowfences - Strategically planted willows trap drifting snow.
  • Wastewater management - Willows filter contaminants from wastewater.

Promoting Rural Development and the Environment

  • Willow crops are carbon dioxide neutral which helps to reduce global warming.
  • They reduce the need for fossil fuels for energy, chemicals, products, and fuels.
  • Combustion of willow biomass releases fewer acid-rain producing compounds into the atmosphere
  • Willow crops reduce soil erosion and nonpoint source pollution
  • Willow crops generate income for local landowners and create jobs within the local community.

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States of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania