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Using Manure to Reclaim Mined Lands for Biomass Production

This project deals with three environmental and energy issues in Pennsylvania: intensive animal production generated manure, reduction in nutrient discharges into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and reclaimed mined areas with low nutrition and organic matter. Goal: is to use reclaimed mined lands as a source for the production of biofuels.

This research and extension project addresses pressing environmental and energy issues in Pennsylvania. Regions of intensive animal production generate animal manure containing nutrients in excess of what is needed for regional crop production. This coupled with mandates to reduce nutrient discharges to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have created the need to export manure from the Bay Watershed. Pennsylvania also contains over 200,000 acres of abandoned mined land and each year current coal mining operations must reclaim approximately 5,000 acres of mined land. The soils on these mined lands are typically very low in nutrients and organic matter and could benefit from the application of manure. Finally, mined lands represent a potential land resource for production of biofuel crops such as switchgrass, but these lands are minimally productive and not capable of sustained high production levels.

Our research is investigating techniques to use agricultural manure in reclamation that will sequester nutrients and carbon from large additions of manure, minimize nutrient losses, rapidly build soil quality, and sustainably produce biomass crops at yield levels comparable to agricultural soils. We are now expanding the project to investigate a variety of potential biofuel crops and develop management systems for these crops on marginal lands. The project also includes economic assessments of these reclamation and production systems. Our partner in this project is the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the work has been supported by PA Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture.

The project began with a proof of concept greenhouse column experiment, then moved to a field reclamation experiment on abandoned mined land focused on nutrient sequestration and leaching and switchgrass production, and now includes additional field experiments with three warm season grasses, and investigations of carbon dynamics and denitrification.

  • Greenhouse Study - Investigation of manure stabilization techniques to reduce nutrient leaching potential
  • Field Experiment using Small Plots in Schuylkill county - Small scale field experiment Investigation of manure nutrient leaching, sequestration and switchgrass growth.
  • Field Experiment using Small Plots in Emigh - this experiment included variety trials
  • Field Experiment using Large Plots in Emigh - Biomass production on mined lands