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Family sees hot promise in pellets

Bryan Reggie holds a handful of switchgrass pellets.

Times Leader staff photo/Aimee Dilger

Leonard, Bryan and Adam Reggie stand in the switchgrass on their property. They are inventing a pelletizer that will turn switchgrass and hay into pellets to burn for heat.

Times Leader staff photo/Aimee Dilger

WYOMING – Tucked away on a secluded farm on Firecut Road, a new idea is emerging.

It’s a concept that the Reggie family feels will preserve farmland, create wildlife habitat and lessen the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Every day, Leonard Reggie and his two sons, Bryan and Adam, work on fabricating, welding and building a machine that will transform common switchgrass into an affordable and abundant heat source.

The family is building a mobile pellet mill. Although the design and construction of the machine are complex, the concept is simple: Bales of switchgrass are placed in one end, ground up and compressed into half-inch pellets that resemble rabbit feed. The pellets can be burned in a boiler or stove.

When burned, the pellets don’t release carbon into the atmosphere and 5 tons can heat an average home for a year, Bryan said. The pellets cost an average of $150 per ton, which equals 120 gallons of fuel oil. The price of heating oil has hovered recently at around $2.25 per gallon.

Simply put, the Reggies believe they are onto something big, and all three have left their jobs to work full time on the endeavor.

“This is totally sustainable,” Leonard said. “It can be done indefinitely into the future without harming the environment, and it’s probably the least expensive option to replace heating oil.”

Leonard came up with the idea to pelletize biomass (renewable, organic matter) and use it for heat several years ago. He was in business making cabinets when things began to slow down and he looked for something else.

Shortly after Leonard conceived the plan, energy costs plummeted and he abandoned the idea.

In 2005, oil prices skyrocketed and, with the encouragement of his two sons, Leonard rekindled the biomass idea.

Adam, who graduated from Penn State Harrisburg with a degree in mechanical engineering technology, left his job with Specialty Defense in Dunmore to join the family business. Bryan, an electrical engineering graduate from Penn State Erie, left his career with Lockheed Martin last summer and the trio formed BHS Energy.

Today, Leonard and his two sons spend their days on the farm, planting switchgrass or building the pellet mill in their spacious workshop.

“I actually enjoy getting up and going to work for a change,” Adam said. “I always wanted to do engineering and work for myself.”

They hope to have the machine ready to go this summer, and local farmers have already expressed interest, they said.

“There are a lot of farms here that haven’t been used in years, and we’re trying to lease their land to grow switchgrass,” Bryan said. “It’s a good way for people who own land to get money to pay their taxes.”

Because the pelletizer can be hauled to the farm, farmers can raise their own switchgrass and sell the pellets. Leonard said a farmer can make an annual profit of $500 per acre, more than any other crop. The pelletizer can be operated with a 65-horsepower tractor in the field, he said, so farmers don’t have to haul the bales into a barn.

Another benefit, he said, is the switchgrass, which grows 5 to 6 feet high, provides for excellent wildlife habitat and only needs to be planted once.

“This is a native grass that grew in the prairies,” Leonard said. “It can produce a yield of 3 to 5 tons per acre every year, and it requires minimal fertilizer and no chemicals to control weeds.”

The Reggies don’t expect everyone to take their word on the benefits of switchgrass pellets, so they are going to practice what they preach. Adam said their barn is filled with switchgrass bales that will be used to heat their house, shop and barn this winter. They will also plant their entire 18-acre farm in switchgrass.

The estimated cost of the pelletizer will be around $60,000, and the Reggies are exploring the possibility of renting machines. They hope to have units ready to sell this July, and intend to produce two to four per month.

“Our goal is to give people the ability to produce their own energy,” Bryan said. “You can’t drill for your own oil, but you can grow switchgrass.”



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