Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Willow fuels farmers' hopes
Cardiff University is researching willow as a fuel source
Scientists in Wales are planning a trial to turn willow wood into the fuel of the future, transforming hard-up farms into forests of alternative energy.
A pioneering team of researchers from the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University has been granted £500,000 from the European Union to explore whether willow could become a source of energy for Wales.
If successful, the scheme could have tremendous benefits to Wales' hard-hit upland farmers, who have been rocked by falling livestock prices in the past 18 months.
Fast-growing, willow can be harnessed for both domestic use and turned into chips for electricity generation.
Experiments will also be carried out in Wales to examine the benefits willow has for decontaminating industrial sites.
Dr Peter Randerson, from Cardiff School of Biosciences, says high yielding varieties of willow can be grown on a short rotation coppice of three to four years, producing 10-30 tonnes of fresh wood per hectare.
Dr Randerson's team has targeted the uplands of central Wales to create an area of alternative enterprise for farmers with less productive land.
Together with Dr Fred Slater, Director of the University's Field Centre at Newbridge-on-Wye in Powys, Dr Randerson's team has, for the last seven years, been involved in research on the feasibility of growing willow on marginal hill land.
"Although the project will emphasise the uses of willow for fuel, we will also remind farmers there are strong markets for willow and willow chips," said Dr Randerson.
Other innovative uses for willow include mulches, filter media, rods for rivers banks, quality charcoal and material for the crafts industry.
Willow is also used to decontaminate heavy metal industry sites and treat sepages from landfill sites, as well as de-watering sewage beds.
Demonstration trials of constructed wetlands for landfill treatment will be set up and monitored in collaboration with Powys County Council.
Farmyard waste-water filtration systems are planned with ADAS Pwllpeiran Experimental Farm and with the National Trust Wales.
Farmers will be able to obtain on-farm advice, visit formal demonstration sites and see the latest willow varieties under trial.
The Cardiff University team will have two members of research staff dedicated to the project, which will run until the end of 2001.