At Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition, we’re always interested in new ways scientists are learning to create renewable energy. Giant Micanthus is a plant that can grow to 12 or more feet in height every year, resembles bamboo, and according to the US Department of Energy, can produce fifteen times as much ethanol as other commonly sourced plants while using far fewer human or natural resources. That’s an incredible amount of potential for fueling our energy needs!
We commonly think of ethanol as being produced by corn or switchgrass, but while both of those plants are great sources of energy, they come with some significant challenges. For example, corn is already a plant for human consumption, so when farmers move to growing it for ethanol production, it strains prices on corn-related products in the grocery store. Corn must also be replanted each year and farmers must care for the harvests with irrigation and fertilization.
Giant Miscanthus is a hybrid plant born from two parent plants: M. Sacchariflorus and M. Sinensis. The resulting child, Miscanthus X Giganteus, is a sterile plant that is larger than any one of its parents. It has amazing characteristics that make it a perfect cellulose plant for ethanol production:
- It grows well in many areas of the United States. Giant Miscanthus prefers moist conditions; in fact, it produces bountiful harvests in areas that receive 30 inches or more of precipitation per year. Many Midwest, Southern, and Western states are perfect for Giant Miscanthus.
- It’s really hearty. Giant Miscanthus doesn’t require much in the way of outside nutrients. It grows nearly as well is poor soil conditions as it does in good soil conditions. Once a plant achieves maturity at 3 years old, it requires little to no fertilization. In this manner, giant miscanthus can be planted on ground otherwise unsuitable for farming, and does not create an environment where fertilizers seep into the groundwater.
- Mature plants don’t require irrigation. Once plants mature at about 3 years old, farmers no longer need to water the crops. Giant Miscanthus has a long root system that will find all the water it needs in the ground.
- Crops do not need to be replanted. Only the tops of the plants are harvested each year, so the base units remain and continue to grow from year-to-year. A crop of Giant Miscanthus can be productive for 15 to 20 years!
- It grows in a controlled manner. The seeds of Giant Miscanthus are sterile, so the crop does not spread via seeds in the wind. Farmers must plant rhizomes to propagate their crops. Somewhere between 4200 and 4300 rhizomes are planted per acre. While they spread out a bit, the amount of spread is very minimal.
One grower of the rhizomes of Giant Miscanthus, Phillip Jennings from Sunbelt Biofuels, estimated that if just one-third of the unused farmable land in Georgia were planted with Giant Miscanthus, Georgia would become the third largest producer of fuel in the world.
It’s exciting to see how the world of bioenergy changes daily as we continue to discover new ways to create renewable energy from the world around us.
Want to know how you can use more biofuels in your home and work?
Learn more about how you can use biofuels in your day-to-day life and your business from the Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition. The Coalition works to enhance the livability and sustainability of Rogue Valley residents.