Researchers at Illinois are exploring all aspects of biofuels production, from the development of feedstocks such as Miscanthus, to planting, harvest, storage, transport, conversion to biofuels and carbon sequestration.
Using Miscanthus in an agricultural setting has not been without its challenges, Long said. Because it is a sterile hybrid, it must be propagated by planting underground stems, called rhizomes. This was initially a laborious process, Long said, but mechanization allows the team to plant about 15 acres a day. In Europe, where Miscanthus has been grown for more than a decade, patented farm equipment can plant about 50 acres of Miscanthus rhizomes a day, he said.
Once established, Miscanthus returns annually without need for replanting. If harvested in December or January, after nutrients have returned to the soil, it requires little fertilizer.
This sterile form of Miscanthus has not been found to be invasive in Europe or the U.S., Long said.
There are at least a dozen companies building or operating plants in the U.S. to produce ethanol from lignocellulosic feedstocks, the non-edible parts of plants, and companies are propagating Miscanthus rhizomes for commercial sale, Long said.
Although research has led to improvements in productivity and growers are poised to begin using it as a biofuels crop on a large scale, Miscanthus is in its infancy as an agricultural product, Long said.
"Keep in mind that this Miscanthus is completely unimproved, so if we were to do the sorts of things that we've managed to do with corn, where we've increased its yield threefold over the last 50 years, then it's not unreal to think that we could use even less than 10 percent of the available agricultural land," Long said. "And if you can actually grow it on non-cropland that would be even better."
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign