Morgantown, W.Va. - West Virginia University researchers have a plan to turn abandoned mine property into fields capable of growing switchgrass and other biofuels.

A team from WVU's West Virginia Water Research Institute has received a $550,000 award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its project to develop sustainable energy parks on mine-scarred lands.

The announcement came during the 2008 West Virginia Brownfields Conference Wednesday (Sept. 10) in Huntington.

Mine-scarred lands qualify as brownfields - properties that once had been used for industrial or commercial activity - under the EPA's brownfields program.

During the four-year project, the WVU team will produce an inventory of abandoned mine sites throughout the state that are suitable for redevelopment into biofuel and other alternative energy production sites called sustainable energy parks.

The project team will identify large tracts of mine-scarred land that can be used for renewable energy production, conduct surveys of potential sites and engage affected communities. One community will be selected for the development of a comprehensive pilot program to showcase sustainable energy park concepts.

Curt Peterson, WVU's vice president for research and economic development, said the award is "an outstanding complement to the work West Virginia University is poised to execute as part of its Advanced Energy Initiative - a strategy that will tackle America's energy problems with innovative research and public policy development."

"Creation of sustainable energy parks on mine-scarred lands is the kind of strategy that this nation and its best thinkers and leaders must pursue in the drive toward energy independence," he said. "We are excited about the EPA announcement and proud of the WVU team that captured this competitive award."

Gov. Joe Manchin added, "Brownfields reclamation work has resulted in successful reuse of commercial property in our state that has benefited West Virginians. The EPA award will help WVU's researchers identify brownfields sites for growing switchgrass and other renewable biofuels that can help meet our energy needs while making good use of reclaimed mine lands."

Paul Ziemkiewicz, WVWRI director and leader of the project team, credited Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, for his vision in supporting the creation of the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Centers at WVU and Marshall University with his colleagues in the state legislature.

"The Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, located at the WVWRI at WVU, is developing a track record of success in assisting communities who want to turn sites that may be liabilities into economic assets," Ziemkiewicz said. "The EPA award is an example of how state, federal and academic efforts combined have the potential to be a force for regional economic development."