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Hybrid grass may prove to be valuable fuel source

as switchgrass, a prairie grass native to Illinois. Grown side by side, Miscanthus produces over twice as much biomass as switchgrass, Heaton said.

To investigate how Miscanthus is so productive, Dohleman and others take measurements of photosynthesis throughout the day. He measures the intensity of the sun and then places a leaf in a chamber, allowing him to measure the rate of photosynthesis depending upon ambient sunlight. Preliminary results show that Miscanthus has a 27 percent greater rate of photosynthesis at midday compared with switchgrass.

Nine different fields across the state are being used to help estimate Miscanthus productivity, Heaton said. Plots in Champaign and Christian counties each have more than 2 acres of Miscanthus, and DeKalb, Pike, Pope, Wayne, Fayette and Mason counties have smaller plots. Plots in Champaign County have shown the greatest yearly yields, according to Long's 2004 progress report to the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research, which funded the experiments.

"It is my hope that Illinois will take the lead in renewable energy and that the state will benefit from that lead," Long said.

Other varieties of Miscanthus have been grown successfully in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. However, the giant Miscanthus being grown by the Illinois researchers has the greatest potential as a fuel source because of its high yields and because it is sterile and cannot become a weed, Heaton said. "Miscanthus sacchariflorus and some of the other fertile Miscanthus species can be quite invasive," she said.

At a research station near Hornum, Denmark, giant Miscanthus has been grown for 22 years in Europe's longest-running experimental field. The crop has never been invasive and rhizome spread has been no more than 1.5 meters (4.92 feet), said Uffe Jorgensen, senior scientist for the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

The next step, Long said, is to demonstrate how Miscanthus goes from a
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Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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