This week and next, SUNY ESF workers will cut down about an acre of willows. That amounts to about 6,000 trees, which when turned into electricity, should be able to power a house for about a year.
"Scientists weigh the biomass that grew as a way to measure productivity," Murphy said. "We are looking for maximized production of woody biomass and shrubs that retain the most water because they prevent water from getting back into the bed."
SUNY ESF planted the willows in the hope that they would help repair some of the environmental damage Allied left behind when it closed the doors to its chemical plant in 1986 a process the state Department of Environmental Conservation also says appears to be working. The waste beds, now mostly barren, contain calcium carbonate and other salty compounds, the byproducts of Allied's soda ash production. Honeywell now is responsible for the cleanup, after a 1999 merger with Allied.
The more mature trees, some reaching 25 feet, soon will be converted into "green" energy. All the trees, young or old, also seem to be stopping salty waste from washing out of the waste beds into Onondaga Lake, scientists working on the project said Wednesday. "I think over the next five to 10 years, we're going to see thousands of acres of willows in Central New York," said Tim Volk, a research associate at SUNY ESF.
Similar to common shrubs, cutting the shrub willows every three years is a pruning process that allows them to re-sprout with new growth in the spring. Each shrub can be harvested at least seven times before replanting.
"Honeywell and ESF have a long history of partnering in Central New York," said John McAuliffe, Syracuse program director for Honeywell. "The sustainable and renewable shrub willow biomass project illustrates the creative and innovative projects that we can bring to the communities around Onondaga Lake."