SPRING CITY, Tenn.-Niota Elementary School eighth-graders learned firsthand Thursday about planting trees while contributing to a TVA environmental stewardship project near Watts Bar Dam.
"It's great," said Mindy Cox, a teacher at the K-8 school. "The students get a chance to learn about reforestation and how it impacts wildlife."
Students rotated through five work stations during the afternoon field trip to the Tennessee Valley Authority's 44-acre research area in Spring City.
The site is dedicated to understanding the carbon cycle and how well trees and certain grasses offset carbon emissions from burned coal and other fuels, TVA spokesman Bill Sitton said. Plants use photosynthesis to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn it into carbohydrates for growth.
The students "are learning, doing and contributing to what TVA is doing," Sitton said.
The research area, composed of five demonstration fields, cultivates 10 species of hardwood trees and shrubs plus 21 kinds of grasses, wildflowers and legumes, according to a TVA memo.
The project tests the plants' carbon recycling capacity and measures their beneficial impact upon natural habitats.
Sitton said reforestation is hardly a new practice for TVA, adding that the site's emphasis is on research and the agency is interested in potential applications for offsetting carbon footprints.
"While the main driver for this project is to develop internal expertise in generating carbon credits, good environmental stewardship was also important, which was a key factor in our decisions about the mix of trees and grasses we planted," Ed Stephens, program manager of TVA's environmental control technologies, said in a memo.
The memo also explained how the assorted grasses grown on the project site could be used to create ethanol, which could be blended with gasoline. Also, some harvested grasses could be turned into biomass pellets for electricity generation.
The first grass crops are due for harvesting later this year or early 2012.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.