Micanthus x giganteus, sometimes referred to as elephant grass, is a promising energy crop, originally imported from Asia, that the University of Illinois is investigating as an energy crop. It is a perennial grass known for its ornamental forms. The type being investigated for an energy crop is a stronger-stemmed highly productive hybrid that grows to a height of 8 to 12 feet. The U of I team calculates that over a ten year period, with no subsidies to either crop, it would be more profitable than corn or soybeans.
Illinois researchers found that the grass has a higher yield than in Europe where earlier work has been conducted to evaluate it as an energy crop. It yields 10 to 30 tons dry mass per hectare (2.47 acres) in Europe and results in Illinois have been twice that. Using a computer simulator, Heaton predicted that if just 10 percent of Illinois land mass was devoted to Miscanthus, it could provide 50 percent of Illinois electricity needs. It is burned and fired with coal, in mixtures of up to 50% Micanthus.
It is a sterile cross, which means that it is not invasive as some varieties are, and it is propagated from rhizomes, similarly to irises. After planting, Micanthus takes three years to mature for harvesting. It is left standing in the field to dry and is harvested from November to February with the same machinery that is used to harvest corn. It is very low in sulfur and carbon neutral so it has strong environmental benefits. The grass is one of the most efficient crops for growing in cold weather and is very drought resistant. Energy input to growing it is much lower than row crops since it is only planted once every 10 to 20 years. It improves soil by adding large amounts of organic matter to it. It requires little or no herbicides or fertilizer and no cultivation once it is established.
"Hybrid grass may be valuable fuel source", PHYSORG.COM, 9/27/05
"Biomass Crops as a Source of Renewable Energy: European Experience with Miscanthus and projections for Illinois", Emily Heaton et al, U of Illinois, 2003 (pdf)
<"Miscanthus, a Promising Energy Crop for Illinois", U of Illinois Environmental Almanac, 2/24/05