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Hybrid grass may prove to be valuable fuel source

a, which are other plant-derived energy sources.

Besides being a clean, efficient and renewable fuel source, Miscanthus also is remarkably easy to grow. Upon reaching maturity, Miscanthus has few needs as it outgrows weeds, requires little water and minimal fertilizer and thrives in untilled fields, Heaton said. In untilled fields, various wildlife species make their homes in the plant's leafy canopy and in the surrounding undisturbed soil.

Illinois researchers have found that Miscanthus grown in the state has greater crop yields than in Europe, where it has been used commercially for years, Long said. Full-grown plants produce 10-30 tons per acre dry weight each year. Miscanthus yields in lowland areas around the Alps, where the climate is similar to the Midwest, are at least 25 tons per acre dry weight, wrote Heaton and colleagues in a paper published in 2004 in the journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change.

Last year, Illinois researchers obtained 60 tons per hectare (2.47 acre), Long said at the BA Festival of Science.

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. Using Miscanthus for energy would not necessarily reduce energy costs in the short term, Heaton said, but there would be significant savings in carbon dioxide production.

The Illinois Miscanthus crop began three years ago when Heaton planted 400 Miscanthus rhizomes, which were generated from three rhizomes donated by the Turfgrass Program in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences. Because Miscanthus is sterile, cuttings of Miscanthus rhizomes must be used to create new plants.

Now in their third year, the three 33-by-33 feet Miscanthus plots at the intersection of South First Street and Airport Road in Savoy, Ill., are considered mature. Their 10-foot tall stems are twice as high
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Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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