Stephen Long and his graduate student Emily Heaton, left, have been conducting side-by-side comparisons of switchgrass to the European miscanthus (previous post) since 2002 at the University of Illinois.
In the 2004 trials, miscanthus out-performed switchgrass by more than double and in the 2005 trials more than triple. Long says:
"Our results show that with miscanthus the President's goal of replacing 30 percent of foreign oil with ethanol, derived from agricultural wastes and switchgrass by 2030, could be achieved sooner and with less land."
Heaton said that because of the high yields with minimal inputs farmers would make a profit if they received about $20 per ton to make a profit.
Dry, leafless Miscanthus, the cool-weather-friendly perennial grass, sometimes referred to as elephant grass or E-grass, grows from an underground stem-like organ called a rhizome. Miscanthus, a crop native to Asia and a relative of sugarcane, drops its slender leaves in the winter, leaving behind tall bamboo-like stems that can be harvested in early spring and burned for fuel.
But there are still some barriers to miscanthus,
- one is the planting cost
- Some related strains of miscanthus that are so fertile that it may become invasive.
It provides cover for breeding birds throughout the summer and fall, unlike the row crops it replaced and with little or no nitrogen requirement has decreased pollution of ground water and rivers.
Pellet burning stoves, purpose-built biomass heat & power plants, and cellulosic ethanol plants are the most likely markets to develop