Miscanthus: What is it?


What is Miscanthus?

 

After extensive field trials and farming experience from the EU, University researchers describe Miscanthus X Giganteus and it's farming attributes and commercial application as a superior alternative energy crop for most regions of North America.

 

Giant miscanthus, a non-invasive sterile hybrid, which can reach heights of up to 13-15 feet, contains approximately 10 to 15 percent moisture at annual harvest. The perennial crop is also highly efficient when it comes to fertilizer use. In addition, it has been shown to be highly drought-tolerant with no known pests. Furthermore, the dense growth pattern of the grass tends to crowd out weeds. The crop is ideal as a habitat for wildlife and fowl. The sterile plant is established using rhizomes and/or small plants. Selecting ESE’s technology will ensure the success of the crop stand in the formative years of establishment and growth. One of the most attractive qualities of giant miscanthus is that the crop can be grown on marginal land. In fact, it may be a sub-optimal use of farmland, which is being used for food production. In short, it isn’t required to  plant miscanthus on those kinds of soils to achieve the quality of biomass and/or the yields. If you have low margin soils because of erosion, etc., these may be desirable areas to plant miscanthus.

 

While miscanthus can be cultivated over a wide swath of U.S. farmland, other energy crops have limited application within the continental US, due to the growing zone climate conditions. Miscanthus Giganteus is a sterile hybrid and its regeneration is accomplished through rhizomes, and small plants, propagated through the use of tissue culture and/or vegetative propagation. Miscanthus was Earth Sense Energy USA’s first focal dedicated energy crop as they had 3-5 years of experience propagating, growing and processing the product on a demonstration basis. Additionally, our founders were considering a joint venture with a UK company named BiCal in 2007 while employed as senior executives by a multi-national company out of Singapore named WBL, Ltd. One of their former key executives is a board member of ESE. It’s former scientist, Paul Carver, is now the CEO of New Energy Farms, a potential competitor and/or customer/vendor for Earth Sense Energy.

 

Where does it grow?

 

Credits:
Iowa State University
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Growing Zones for Miscanthus

Latitudes of 30-40 are optimal and hardiness zones of 6-8 are acceptable for growing of Miscanthus. Overwintering in the first year of crop establishment will be an important consideration for selection of small plants or rhizomes for genetic stock in the geographic region desired. Regions other then these hardiness zones or latitudes may increase the risk of loss in field stands and cane yields, or both, but Miscanthus has yielded well in colder climates in the world, as demonstrated by the EU’s success with the crop in less than temperate zones. Our technology and our joint venture partner’s technology will provide us access to most, if not all, states in the continental USA.

 

What is Elephant Grass?

 Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) also known as Napier grass or Ugandan grass, is a species of perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands. It is a hybrid of Pennisetum purpureum and Pennisetum glaucum and It has been commonly farmed in areas that farm Sugarcane, which are Tropical climates. Areas in the southernmost regions of the US, like Louisiana are ideal for growing Elephant Grass. After crop establishment it has low water and nutrient requirements, and therefore can make use of otherwise uncultivated lands. Due to its extensive underground roots, it is drought tolerant. Historically, this wild species has been used primarily for grazing; recently, however, it is being used as an energy crop and it has been incorporated into a pest management strategy. This technique involves the desired crop being planted alongside a ‘push’ plan, which repels pests, in combination with a ‘pull’ crop around the perimeter of the plot, which draw insects out of the plot. Elephant grass has shown potential at attracting stem borer moths (a main cause of yield loss in Africa) away from maize [4] and hence is the “pull” crop. This strategy is much more sustainable, serves more purposes and is more affordable for farmers than insecticide use. In addition to this, Napier grasses improve soil fertility, and protect arid land from soil erosion. It is also utilized for firebreaks, windbreaks, in paper pulp production and most recently to produce bio-oil, biogas and charcoal.

Dedicated Energy Crops to Ethanol:

 Technology for the conversion of dedicated energy crops to liquid fuel, such as green gasoline or ethanol has been commercialized. The use of slow and fast pyrolysis and cellulosic ethanol technology has advanced the conversion of cellulose to liquid fuel.

 

Dedicated Energy Crops to Biocoal:

 Biocoal pelletizing and briquetting is the process of converting agricultural waste or dedicated energy crops into high density and energy concentrated fuel pellets, cubes and briquettes. A process called torrefaction is used to increase the energy density of feedstock into Biochar. Biocoal densification plants are of various sizes of which convert Biochar into solid fuels. Pellets and briquettes are a ready substitute of Coal/ wood/ other conventional fossil fuel in industrial boiler and brick kiln for thermal application. Bio coal products are an alternative source of energy, renewable in nature, eco friendly, non polluting and economical. Process of converting dedicated energy crops to solid fuel is also non-polluting. It has not required adding any binders or chemicals so it is 100% natural. Pellets and briquettes have high specific density (1200 Kg/m3) and bulk density (800 Kg/m3) compared to a maximum of 929 Kg/m3 of the three types of coal; bituminous coal, lignite coal and Anthracite Coal. Biocoal costs can be less then coal (pellets) in transportation and loading and storage cost. If you factor in the  regulatory requirements, biocoal is more often then not, less expensive then coal. Biocoal has similar to higher energy density as compared to coal. For a comparison of bio-coal versus coal, go to this link:


 

Conversion Facilities:

 

 One significant benefit of the versatile, high yielding crops of Miscanthus and Elephant grass are that they can also be harvested using "just-in-time" methods, which helps to mitigate many of the storage and logistics challenges that plague many other bioenergy crops. In addition to the fact that the crops can grow on marginal lands, it is possible to harvest the crop up to 2-5 times per year. With Elephant grass, a secondary market of forage for livestock feed is available.

There are many bio based industrial sectors that could take in energy crops as feedstock, including power, thermal, liquid and gas biofuels and biopolymer applications. The feasibility of these bio-energy and bio-refining projects increases exponentially when the dedicated energy crop plantations are within close proximity of the conversion facility. Densification facilities within a reasonable distance from the growing regions minimize high transportation costs of low bulk density bales or silage. High bulk density of finished products, like cubed,briquetted or pelletized dedicated energy crops provide for high volume shipments of product via rail, ocean freighter and truck to locations over several hundreds/thousands of miles from regional conversion facilities. Additionally, incorporating the processes of leaching and torrefaction will reduce the presence of ash causing minerals and reduce the moisture content to less then 4%. A secondary product created through this torrefaction process, otherwise known as slow pyrolysis, is Biochar, a product with a high-energy content and utilization as a soil amendment for farming or a soilless media for the nursery industry.

Our commercialization model is a viable economic model, without government support programs. However, utilizing these programs, specifically the USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) will help strengthen ESE’s and farmers bottom lines.