Miscanthus for Bioenergy – Europe & USA

The need for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gases is well known, and bioenergy is one of the possible solutions. The new perennial grass crop Miscanthus is particularly promising for bioenergy, as it is hardy, fast growing and efficient in its use of water.

Miscanthus is the name of a group of perennial grasses native to Asia and Africa, and first introduced into the UK as an ornamental plant in the 19th century. The type most commonly grown for biomass is a sterile hybrid (called Miscanthus x giganteus), which, once established, grows 3-metre woody canes each summer.

Yields of Miscanthus cane from mature crops are typically 12-20 tonnes dry matter per hectare per year in temperate Europe. Yields in the USA (Illinois) have been recorded at over 40 tonnes.

The energy content of the cane is typically 17 MJ per kg of dry matter, similar to wood but with higher silicon content.

When the potential for specific energy crops was examined, one of the key issues was that the energy expended in growing them should be less than for conventional arable crops. This is helped if the energy crops have low requirements for fertilizers, pesticides and other agrochemicals, as these consume large amounts of fossil energy in their manufacture. Low machinery costs are also desirable, and perennial crops have an advantage as annual soil cultivations are not needed. The energy and carbon savings of growing perennial energy crops in countries such as the UK can be considerable.

There is considerable interest in the use of switchgrass and Miscanthus for ethanol production, particularly in the United States. Both crops are C4 pathway perennial grasses, and although switchgrass is native to the North American prairies, Miscanthus appears to be higher yielding, at least in some of the northern states including Illinois, according to work done at the University of Illinois.

To date the UK appears to have the main stocks of biomass-quality Miscanthus rhizomes in Europe. To capitalize, BICAL has set up subsidiary companies in France and Ireland with trading partners, operating under the BICAL identity. The company is also active in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Poland. Other companies, including ADAS Consulting Ltd are also active in some countries in a consultancy or supply role.

In France, INRA, the government research organization, has set up a development programme for cellulosic biomass ethanol crops, and Miscanthus plays a major role in this. Meanwhile BICAL France is actively recruiting growers for a range of end uses, including co-firing, over most of the country.

Early work in Germany, particularly in Bavaria, gave very high yields, but progress was set back by winter hardiness problems with small tissue-cultured plants not surviving the first winter. Now however a number of farmers and businesses are actively developing the crop. Germany has always had considerable expertise in the development of liquid fuel alternatives to gasoline, and seems likely to continue to lead in this area.

In Ireland the government has recently announced its intention to set up an energy crop establishment support scheme, with EU funding for willow SRC and Miscanthus planting. Possible uses would be the conversion of the current peat burning fluidized bed power stations to biomass, at least in part, and there are also possibilities to co-fire Miscanthus with coal in large modern plants. Both uses would improve carbon mitigation. Ireland’s pastureland produces heavy emissions of methane from the ruminant livestock. There are possibilities for profitable conversion of this land to Miscanthus for energy cropping with concurrent reductions in GHG emissions, and good soil carbon sequestration potential.

In the Ukraine, Miscanthus is being planted on a 5000 ha energy park, but little other information is currently available.

Achievement of these requirements, with Miscanthus, will be difficult, due to the shortage of Miscanthus rhizome for planting currently available in the USA. However with sufficient government determination towards liquid fuel self- sufficiency, and increasing awareness of the need for carbon mitigation, these targets could be reached.

For more information visit: https://www.renewableenergyworld.com

Grass Used as Fuel Source

Transcript: Robyn Williams on The Science Show
ABC (Australia) – Broadcast: Sat 24 Sep 2005, 12:00am

Note: This is an old interview, but an interesting one nonetheless. Robyn and Dr Stephen Long (Department of Plant Biology & Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) discuss the use of Miscanthus as a fuel source when the project was in the early stages.

Robyn Williams: Well, we continue to burn coal in our power stations – but why not use grass instead? Professor Steve Long from Illinois is keen. He calculates that burning elephant grass could provide half his state’s needs – or more.

Steve Long: Well, if we assume 30 tons per hectare and we have had yields of 60 tons per hectare, then if 8% of the land was turned over to this crop we would generate enough biomass to generate about half of the state’s electricity use.

Robyn Williams: That includes of course, the great city of Chicago, lots of people.

Steve Long: Yes, exactly.

Robyn Williams: So it’s a very substantial contribution?

Steve Long: It is, yes.

Robyn Williams: Would this be able to grow in many other places – in Europe, in Asia, in Australia for example?

Steve Long: Well, actually Europe has been the pioneer with growing this and they have had trials from Sicily right up into southern Sweden, and in all of those locations they’ve achieved respectable yields. As you move into the Mediterranean climates, of course this would affect Australia in particular, then the yields go down because you can’t achieve 60 tons per hectare, even with a very efficient crop, without significant water input. But Australia may have significant areas of surplus land. I think for a country like Australia this type of crop is particularly promising.

Robyn Williams: And it’s called elephant grass; of course, there’s more than one elephant grass. What’s its technical name?

Steve Long: It’s technical name is Miscanthus and that’s why we’ve tended to use that as the common name as well, because as you say, there are other elephant grasses and indeed some of these are grown in pastures in Australia.

Robyn Williams: And what’s the advantage of it? Unlike coal you’re not making a net addition to the CO 2 in the atmosphere.

Steve Long: Yes, this is the major advantage in Kyoto terms and global change terms, that as the plant grows through the summer it’s removing carbon dioxide from the air to make its biomass. When you burn it in a power station you release that carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere. So electricity generation or heat generation is not adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; there’s no net effect on the atmosphere, whereas if you burn coal you’re taking the coal out of the ground, you’re burning it, and you’re adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Robyn Williams: How do you burn the grass. Do you dry it off and just pop it in the burner or what?

Steve Long: Yes, it is a perennial but it produces an annual crop of stems, rather like reeds or savannah grasslands. The grass grows up and then in the autumn it dies back. The farmer harvests it after it’s died back, so essentially he’s harvesting the dried above ground material, so that’s cut and baled. In most cases the idea is that the bales will be burnt in a power station.

Robyn Williams: Wouldn’t it be more sensible to grow a crop like sugar cane where you’ve got a product and then you burn what’s left over?

Steve Long: Well, that is another option but of course we’re thinking here about crops for temperate zones and the major advantage you have there is, during the autumn period as the plant dies back it’s moving its nutrients below ground. So that nitrogen is very energy expensive, you need to essentially combust a lot of fossil fuel to make your nitrogen even for some sugar cane plantations. So when it dies back and moves the nitrogen below ground you’re essentially saving the farmer having to put fertiliser on and making this more energy efficient.

Robyn Williams: I see, so the grass you use doesn’t deplete the soil itself?

Steve Long: Exactly, in fact what has been shown in Europe is it actually adds organic matter to the soil quite significantly.

Robyn Williams: So what’s been the take up of this? You said that it’s been pioneered in Europe, is it actually running a substantial amount of power stations yet?

Steve Long: There are two power plants in Britain which are now starting to use Miscanthus. Government has subsidised farmers to plant Miscanthus, so it is looking at meeting part of its Kyoto targets by burning Miscanthus and other biomass crops. Britain is actually probably in the lead at present on this. In the Midwest there’s a great deal of interest from farmers, obviously this is a crop they see requires less work than their existing crops, they’re very interested in finding a third crop, particularly one which might restore their soil organic matters. But really to get this underway it does need government intervention to encourage power plants to cover the initial costs for farmers to actually plant it. But beyond that we believe then it will be economically sustainable because if we look at those yields and the cost of fossil fuels in power plants then we can see that it could already be economically viable.

Robyn Williams: And it won’t be a worry about being a monoculture which then, if you like, runs wild in some way as we’ve seen so often before?

Steve Long: This particular Miscanthus is called Miscanthus giganteus. It’s actually a hybrid between two species, so it’s rather like crossing a donkey with a horse: what you get is strong but it’s completely sterile. I mean that is deliberate, because something which produces 60 tons of dry matter per hectare is clearly a very vigorous plant, so we don’t want that running wild and this is why the material we are using is sterile.

Robyn Williams: And you’re not going to tell me that the seed is sold by Monsanto or something?

Steve Long: Well, of course there is no seed. It’s actually planted from rhizomes and those rhizomes are available from a number of sources in the public domain.


Source: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/grass-used-as-fuel-source/3361170

Presenter: Robyn Williams / Producer: Polly Rickard / Producer: David Fisher

Miscanthus Bedding for Sheep, Goats, Horses and Cows

Miscanthus bedding is the modern alternative to straw and wood shavings, proving more absorbent than straw and shavings. It can be used the same way as any other bedding either deep litter or a shallow covering on rubber mats.

As soon as the droppings and wet patches are removed from the stable or animal pens it will compost quicker than other beddings.

Miscanthus reduces contact between animals and manure, minimises ammonia levels, and insulates and protects animals from concrete floors. It is softer than traditional beddings and is a cost-effective alternative to wood shavings. Because of its woody nature means the dust content is naturally low reducing respiratory issues.

Dairy sheep farms are currently the major customers for the product that Miscanthus New Zealand harvests.

The demand for bedding for calves is expanding rapidly, particularly in the South Island. There has been nothing but positive feedback about this use. Seriously interested farmers are even establishing their own crops.

Once you try miscanthus bedding you will never go back to shavings.

Miscanthus x giganteus (MxG) Research

Following the oil crisis of the 1970s, a search for ideal bioenergy crops began. This included research into the biomass yield potential of giant miscanthus.

Miscanthus x giganteus is now used commercially in Europe for bedding, heat, and electricity generation. Most production currently occurs in England but also in Spain, Italy, Hungary, France, and Germany.

In the United States, research began at the University of Illinois in 2001. The same plot design used in the Illinois trials was replicated across several states in 2008 and 2009 as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Regional Feedstock Partnership.

Miscanthus New Zealand (MNZ) set out in 2010 to establish a Miscanthus industry in New Zealand. One key objective was to assist rural landowners by providing a reliable alternative revenue stream that is not only environmentally friendly but is also better than carbon neutral. Knowledgeable international colleagues emphasised that it would take time to develop such an industry, but they were certain that it would take off eventually as it had already done so in the UK, Europe and North America.

With the support of key people it is likely that MNZ can expect to be planting a much more significant area of Miscanthus this year. A few mistakes have been made along the way, but MNZ has learned from those and will be rectifying those mistakes in the next growing season. Right now, MNZ is in the position where every bale of Miscanthus that it has in store is already committed. It seems that every piece of Miscanthus that MNZ will be able to produce from this coming winter’s harvest is also already committed. In fact, demand exceeds supply by quite a margin.

It is very interesting that the current demand is coming from people who have been evaluating Miscanthus and have come to the conclusion that it is what they want to use. Customers use Miscanthus for animal bedding – dairy, sheep and goat – even though there has been virtually no promotion of it done for this use to date. The other major potential use that was never planned for is for commercial mulch. This market is also extremely large and a commercial mulch Miscanthus trial that was done and completed by Lincoln University, was exceptionally successful. MNZ has not yet been promoting it for this use because we simply do not have the capacity to supply the product that will inevitably be required.

Energy uses were originally the intention of growing Miscanthus. They still exist and the potential scale is enormous, but with the level of demand for other uses that have a high value, these will only proceed if the energy users grow their own Miscanthus or contract others to grow the material for them. It is safe to say that the Miscanthus business in New Zealand is starting to take off.

Miscanthus as a Biofuel in the US

In the United States, research began at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. Miscanthus Giganteus has been proposed for use in the United States in combined heat and power generation, as a supplement or on its own. It is also a leading candidate feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Miscanthus Giganteus could meet biofuel goals without bringing new land into production or displacing food supply.

Miscanthus Giganteus is one of the most promising biomass crops in the United States today. It is a cold-tolerant cousin of sugarcane and capable of high biomass yields at cool temperatures. Further, it tolerates marginal lands and some flooding. It is more amenable to thermochemical conversion to biofuel than biochemical conversion, with good potential for the heat and power as well as animal bedding industries. Miscanthus Giganteus is distinguished from other biomass crops by its high yields, particularly at cool temperatures, which can be more than double those typical of switchgrass.

Miscanthus Giganteus shows an inconsistent response to fertilizer and is generally characterized by low input requirements for production. These low inputs and consistently high yields make Miscanthus Giganteus more profitable that corn/soy in the Midwest over the long term, despite the high cost of establishment given that the crop must be established vegetatively from rhizomes or plugs. Using high-yielding biomass crops like Miscanthus Giganteus for fuel over food crops like corn may allow the United States to achieve its biofuel mandates without competition between food and fuel.

Crop Sciences Professor Stephen P. Long says:

“What we’ve found with Miscanthus is that the amount of biomass generated each year would allow us to produce about 2 1/2 times the amount of ethanol we can produce per acre of corn. In trials across Illinois, switchgrass, a perennial grass which, like Miscanthus, requires fewer chemical and mechanical inputs than corn, produced only about as much ethanol feedstock per acre as corn.

One of the criticisms of using any biomass as a biofuel source is it has been claimed that plants are not very efficient – about 0.1 percent efficiency of conversion of sunlight into biomass. What we show here is on average Miscanthus is in fact about 1 percent efficient, so about 1 percent of sunlight ends up as biomass. Field trials also showed that Miscanthus is tolerant of poor soil quality.

The highest productivity is occurring in the south, on the poorest soils in the state, so that shows us that this type of crop may be very good for marginal land or land that is not even being used for crop production.

Because Miscanthus is a perennial grass, it also accumulates much more carbon in the soil than an annual crop such as corn or soybeans. In the context of global change, that’s important because it means that by producing a biofuel on that land you’re taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil.

Research has led to improvements in productivity and growers are poised to begin using it as a biofuels crop on a large scale.”


Quote Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080730155344.htm

Note: Content edited for style and length.

The Origins of Giant Miscanthus

The genus Miscanthus includes approximately 20 species. The name comes from the Greek mischos meaning “stalk” and anthos, “flowers.” Grasses in this genus are called Maiden Grass, Chinese Silver Grass, Japanese Silver Grass, Susuki Grass, or Eulalia Grass.

Miscanthus is native to Asia. It is found in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea in meadows, marshes, hillsides, and abandoned areas, near active volcanoes, in poor soil and on mountainsides up to 1500 metres. It is a dominant species in Japan’s grasslands. Known as Susuki Grass, its blooms are considered a sign of autumn. Cattle use it for fodder and it is a main component of thatched roofs. Children make play toys out of the fluffy blooms, and its fibers are made into paper.

Miscanthus x giganteus is a sterile hybrid reaching heights of 3.5 – 4.0 metres each season, once it is established. It is believed to be a hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis, native to China, and M. sacchariflorus, native to Japan. In Spring, fluffy, fan-like plumes emerge and as Winter approaches the foliage turns from green to a deep burnt orange which fades to tan.

The Miscanthus being grown and used in New Zealand is a sterile, naturally occurring hybrid of two Miscanthus species whose ranges overlap in Japan. We have two clones in New Zealand – one that was obtained from the USA and one that was obtained from the UK – and both seem to be very suitable to New Zealand conditions.

Miscanthus – carbon negative and regionally beneficial

One of the many positives of Miscanthus is its ability to be used to make Renewable Diesel Fuel (RDF), a direct and complete substitute for fossil fuel diesel. With the RDF production process being significantly carbon negative – because about 15% of the dry matter that goes in, ends up as permanently sequestered carbon. RDF from Miscanthus is based on New Zealand biomass which allows for direct import substitution, improving New Zealand’s fuel security and reducing NZ’s international fuel bill. Independent life cycle analysis has shown that growing Miscanthus is carbon negative to the farm gate point.

With Miscanthus, once it is established, all the landowner has to do is visit the farm once a year to watch it being harvested. Because of its perennial nature and annual harvest once the Miscanthus crop is established there is almost no cost and no personal time required. In addition to a cash return in the form of renewable diesel, it’s use will provide farmers with an effective pasture shelter, animal bedding, feed supplement and boiler fuel.

Miscanthus is commercially viable, carbon negative, environmentally friendly and regionally beneficial. It can also significantly reduce nitrogen leaching from farmland. The potential benefits to New Zealand agriculture, New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions, of replacing imported diesel or imported crude oil to make diesel are obvious, as are benefits in terms of reductions in net carbon dioxide emissions through the use of this very low carbon technology.


For more information visit: miscanthus-the-plant-articles

Multipurpose plant has big future in Germany

Researchers in Germany are looking at ways beyond meat, grain or dairying for farmers to grow and profit from in future.

On a 200-hectare farm at Meckenheim, 15km south west of Bonn, scientists are investigating how plants can be used for everything from biofuel, to building materials, paper and medicine.

The University of Bonn’s ​Dr Thorsten Kraska​ says plants such as virginia mellow, cup plant, princess tree and jerusalem artichoke can all be used for multiple purposes before being burned as biomass.

These crops can play a key role in sustainable farming in the future because they have multiple uses.

Kraska told journalists visiting the farm as part of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists 2016 Congress the miscanthus plant excited him the most.

From the grass family, the plant had more than 30 different uses, including animal bedding, soil substitution, fuel and as a building industry material. Burning it should always be its final use.

“Don’t use your biomass plant just for energetic purposes. It should be for a material use and then later on, when you can do nothing else, then you can burn it.”

Miscanthus had a low 1:15 parts energy input to output ratio. In comparison, rape seed and maize plants had an energy input to output ratio of 1:3 and a maximum of 1:5.

It could grow more than two metres high and would overgrow nearby weeds, eliminating the need for herbicide, he said.

“It can grow up to five centimetres a day when the conditions are right. In mid-summer now, in July, we can make a measurement in the morning and in the afternoon and find clearly that the plant is growing.”

Soil fertility also increased after miscanthus was grown because it was largely a hands-off crop. No chemicals were sprayed because the plant took care of any weeds and attracted few insect pests. It needed to be harvested once a year in early summer and required about 30kg of nitrogen every second year, he says.

Miscanthus’ roots were able to fix nitrogen and those varieties that did not utilise its leaves when harvested returned about eight tonnes of organic matter to the soil when its leaves were broken down.

About five tonnes a year of CO2 was also sequestered in the soil and 30 tonnes was sequestered in the air from an average yield per hectare, he says.

Kraska estimates biomass plants could substitute about one million litres of oil currently used by farmers within a 15-kilometre radius of the research farm to remove unwanted biomass.

Miscanthus came in different varieties, with differing stem to leaf ratio and biomass potential.

Those with a higher leaf to stem ratio were less efficient for combustion because the leaves contained minerals that might corrode the inside of the oven.

But these varieties were ideal for building materials because the leaves contained a high level of silica. The stems were ideal for insulation.

“We are looking at very different varieties, and I get the feeling we are just at the beginning.”

The variety planted at the research farm is a sterile miscanthus spread by re-planting its rhizome – the stem that keeps growing, sending out roots and shoots from its nodes.

Worldwide, miscanthus yielded about 20 tonne a hectare on average, although he was aware of regions growing 40T/ha and 10-12T/ha in colder climates.

But taking it from the laboratory to the farm posed challenges in Germany, where there was no large-scale market for it. All current plantings were on a small scale, with no associated industry in support.

It was a long-term investment and commitment for a farmer with no guarantee of a committed buyer for harvesting, Kraska said.

“For miscanthus, they have to stand for three years before you get the full yield and you have to spend roughly €2000 per hectare ($NZ3000) on planting material because there are no seeds available.

“So for the first three years, they are not making money out of it. You have to grow it at least 10 years for it to be successful on an economic scale.”

This was the main reason growing large scale miscanthus crops was not popular in Germany, where miscanthus stands were on a small scale and the plant was used as fuel for domestic heating or bedding material for livestock.

All farms had areas unsuitable for cropping but suitable for miscanthus. On hillier farms, it could be used to control erosion.

“The rule for miscanthus is that if you can grow any crop, you can grow miscanthus and when you have a hilly area it might be better because it has stable roots and rhizomes and can withstand [rain and flooding] there and avoid soil erosion.”

Despite the challenges, he sees huge potential for the plant in German agriculture. “The funny thing is that it’s potential has been known for 10-20 years.”


View full article (written September 2016) by Gerald Piddock at https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/83171242/multipurpose-plant-has-big-future-in-germany-and-new-zealand


Miscanthus poised to take off in New Zealand

Peter Brown  of Miscanthus New Zealand Ltd (MNZ) says Lincoln University, Fonterra and local government are taking a close look at the plant’s potential.

MNZ has stands of Miscanthus growing in Huntly, Helensville, Nelson, Darfield, and Taupo.

“I believe it’s poised to suddenly take off. I think the potential is absolutely enormous. My vision for the future is that every farmer in New Zealand with land of suitable terrain would have some Miscanthus on it, even if it is just for their own use for things like calf bedding.”

It is already being used commercially in England, parts of Europe and North America, he said.

From a commercial biomass perspective, it would give farmers a steady guaranteed income stream on top of their milk, meat or crop, Brown said.

It grows well in New Zealand in most areas. It is  best to grow it on flat to rolling country because of the difficulties of harvesting on hill country.

The type used in New Zealand were sterile hybrids of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus. The leaves were not used for commercial purposes yet, although they could be in future as mulch, or even as low-quality stock feed, he said.

New Zealand farmers were looking at a return of at least $800-$1400 a hectare a year after three years once the plant was fully established. It is already being used for bedding for racehorses, dairy sheep. calves and dairy cows and there is growing interest in it as a domestic or commercial mulch.

It costs about $5000 per ha to establish commercial scale areas Miscanthus, but this is an upfront rather than ongoing expense. Once established, the only extra costs incurred were in harvesting, he said.

It has not been grown long enough in New Zealand to know how long a rhizome could keep producing commercially worthwhile product. In the United States there are 25-year-old Miscanthus stands still in production and Brown sees no reason why Miscanthus would not do as well in New Zealand.

That meant establishment costs were minimal if a grower was looking at it as a long-term investment. Those costs also can be reduced if larger areas are planted.

Brown understands there are discussions in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay around using it for erosion control on hill country and for stream protection in conjunction with native trees.

Fonterra has also been looking at Miscanthus closely and MNZ has a 2ha trial plot near Darfield on Fonterra land.

There, it is being tested as a potential biomass fuel for its coal-powered milk powder dryer. Initial trials showed Miscanthus burns quickly and inefficiently but needs to first be processed into a dense high quality pellets for best use as a fuel source.

A Fonterra spokesman said its Darfield plant had the means to co-fire its boilers with coal and another form of energy. Miscanthus was an option for fuel in the future.

“We continue to look at Miscanthus as an option for co-generation, but it is one option in five or six.”

Brown said a small amount of Miscanthus had been produced as a cubed pellet and work with Fonterra is continuing. The cubes mimicked coal and contained a similar level of energy.

He estimated about 20-30ha of three-year-old miscanthus would be needed for Fonterra to use it as 10 per cent of its boiler fuel over a five-day period. It would supplement coal as a fuel source rather than replace it.

In addition to using Miscanthus successfully through their boiler, Lincoln University has also studied the plant as a source of shelter for stock on South Island farms with centre pivot irrigators.

Professor Steve Wratten of the Lincoln’s Bio-protection Research Centre says that those irrigated trials had produced 30-40 tonnes of dry matter per hectare a year.

“Roughly speaking, the production is proportionate to the rainfall. If you are irrigating it and it’s getting lots of rainfall, you can get better production.”

Like many new ideas in farming, Brown knows it will take time for Miscanthus to catch on.

“Farmers are sometimes set in their ways and it takes time for new ideas to catch on and grow. They often begin through word of mouth or with a small number of adventurous farmers giving it a try, the neighbouring farmer then sees it and copies it. Before you know it takes off and becomes the norm.”


View full article (written September 2016) by Gerald Piddock at https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/83171242/multipurpose-plant-has-big-future-in-germany-and-new-zealand

Header image: Giant miscanthus grass growing on trial at a Kirwee dairy farm could be the future of shelter belts in Canterbury.

Article updated and corrected in places in April 2019

The Miscanthus Project – November 2012 to April 2014

November 2012

Research proposal approved – decided initially to concentrate on the eco-system service benefits generated from creating Miscanthus shelterbelts.

Ground preparation started on Aylesbury Road farm and Karetu farm. 48 bumble bee motels placed.

December 2012

Planting of Miscanthus in the first four paddocks took place.

January 2013

Three dairy farms planted with Miscanthus – a total of 10 paddocks being used to firstly investigate the growth potential of the plant itself and also to monitor its effectiveness in providing ecosystem services to dairy farms.

February 2013

Monitoring of soil moisture levels, water input and pasture production underway. Monitoring of bumble bee motels placed in six paddocks has revealed that out of 48 motels placed with 4 compartments in each motel only one compartment showed any sign of occupancy.

March 2013

We move from having 34 plants that we imported in tissue culture, to supplying several hundred thousand plants to landowners keen to grow Miscanthus. We are now looking for new sites in Northland where there is rapidly firming demand for Miscanthus biomass product, sufficient for us to need to get 7000 or more hectares planted.

At Aylesbury farm, where Miscanthus plants suffered initially when irrigation was not available, the plants are now thriving and are over a metre tall.

April 2013

The earliest plantings in Hawke’s Bay – now two years and two months from the day they were planted – are thriving in spite of the very dry summer that they have had. We now have data running from November through to the end of March on the feed value of Miscanthus from one site.

Growth of irrigated plants has continued to be impressive at Aylesbury farm with some now over 1.5 m tall. Karetu farm received its first significant rainfall since February 6 on March 19 with 26 – 30 mm of rain over two days. This resulted in what were apparently dead Miscanthus plants sprouting new shoots, indicating the robustness of this plant.

May 2013

We finally saw the end of the drought. As expected, although the Miscanthus is deep-rooted, if there is no rain, eventually the dryness gets down as far as the Miscanthus roots extend. Indications are that where establishment and particularly initial weed control was effective, the plants performed extremely well until around the end of January when they began to show drought effects.

June 2013

Interest in Miscanthus is growing rapidly and Miscanthus New Zealand (MNZ) has had a number of enquiries from people wanting to order small quantities to establish tiny trial areas of Miscanthus on their properties. We put together a Miscanthus plant cost schedule that progressively increases the cost per plant for smaller numbers.

MNZ has also been approached by the developer of a hybrid biomass processing facility that is to be based in Northland and that will require large quantities of Miscanthus feedstock material.

July 2013

Miscanthus planted in the irrigated paddocks of Aylesbury Farm achieved a maximum height of 1.5m which is impressive considering the late planting and initial lack of irrigation. This growth was achieved from initially water-stressed plants in just four months. Expected height from growth over seven months was 1m.

September 2013

In the past month or two, a lot of our focus has been on what is effectively a side business, which is the establishment of renewable diesel plants in New Zealand. Miscanthus New Zealand Limited was approached some time back by an American company called REEP Development LLC, which is half owned by a Kiwi, to see if we would be interested in use of Miscanthus through their proprietary process to make renewable diesel.

The first signs of re-growth started to appear at the beginning of September.

October 2013

The growing season for Miscanthus is well underway and even in areas that have not been harvested the Miscanthus is shooting up extremely quickly. Reports from Canterbury have indicated that while the Miscanthus started growing quite early, it does tend to get stopped by cold spells and then starts to grow again after the cold spell has finished.

December 2013

MNZ purchased the assets of the only other New Zealand importer of Miscanthus plants, making it the sole supplier of Miscanthus plants in New Zealand. So MNZ is now the owner of almost ten hectares of Miscanthus at three locations from North of Auckland to Canterbury. Also, significant harvested product in baled form now owned by MNZ and available for research and sale.

January 2014

Bumble bee motels were restocked over the winter. Previous research shows occupancy improves in season two and three after placement. Last season, no motels were used as nesting sites and this season only two out of 48 motels were occupied.

The Miscanthus that MNZ customers have established over the last few years almost all continue to thrive. The original Hawkes Bay planting was well over 2 metres by early December and the reasonably regular wet weather this season has helped in the development of the Miscanthus.

Use of the Miscanthus harvested product for fuel, renewable diesel, stock bedding, emergency stock feed, garden mulch and other more technological uses is all being actively pursued by MNZ staff and associates.

February 2014

In conjunction with Lincoln University, Miscanthus New Zealand Limited has been asked by a major New Zealand company to put in a proposal to look at undertaking some significant research into production and use of Miscanthus in an industrial setting.

April 2014

Expected maximum height at the end of season is 2-3m, despite early setbacks from no irrigation during the spring drought these Miscanthus plants demonstrated impressive growth rates.

A group from DairyNZ visited Aylesbury Farm to find out how Miscanthus can benefit dairy farms and become an integrated component of the farming system. A journal article on the ecosystem services and ecosytem dis-services provided by Miscanthus as a shelterbelt on dairy farms is being prepared with a view to submission late winter.


Tall grass proves its versatility

A tall grass touted as a multi-purpose wonder plant has proved its worth as a shelterbelt replacement for Canterbury dairy farms, says Lincoln University ecology professor Steve Wratten.

A North Asian grass closely related to sugarcane, Miscanthus x giganteus grows to 3.5 – 4m high and is used overseas for feedstock for biofuels, stock bedding and emergency stock feed.

Research by Lincoln University PhD student Chris Littlejohn, supervised by Wratten and originally funded by Westland Milk Products, looked into the performance of six L-shaped trial plots of Miscanthus grown on a dairy farm at Aylesbury, about 30km west of Christchurch.

On dairy farms where traditional shelter belts have been removed to make way for pivot irrigation, Wratten says Miscanthus can act as windbreaks and be harvested for supplementary income.

Wratten said they identified 15 specific benefits such as shelter for animals and increasing biodiversity as habitat for the likes of skinks and bumblebees.

Not only do cows appreciate the shelter, the research confirmed that pasture itself does better in the lee of the miscanthus. In windy conditions the stomata of green plants – the tiny ventilation holes in the outer skin – close up and throttle the plant’s metabolism, but the shelter provided by Miscanthus mitigates that effect.

Separate plantings of Miscanthus along about a kilometre of the farm’s road boundary are now testing the ability of a soil fungus known as Trichoderma to help plant growth.

In a randomised trial in which different sections of the plot got different blends of the fungus, or none at all, some sections are already showing good results in what Wratten says was poor stony soil previously full of broom and eucalypts.

With Miscanthus capable of yields of up to 40t DM/ha, Wratten is now seeking funding for trials on converting the harvested grass into renewable diesel.

While the diversion of productive land for biofuel production could be controversial, Wratten emphasised that as a by-product of its other uses, Miscanthus renewable diesel would be a truly renewable resource that need not compete with food production.

The only New Zealand supplier of the plant is Miscanthus New Zealand Ltd, whose managing director Peter Brown said it had been “a long slow process” getting Miscanthus accepted since he began propagating it from plants imported in 2010. “But people are starting to get serious about it.”

Miscanthus is a long-lasting perennial, the tops browning off in autumn and the grass renewing itself in spring from underground rhizomes. As a sterile hybrid, it can only be propagated vegetatively so seed-borne spread is impossible and it is considered very unlikely ever to become a pest.

Because it is palatable to stock, grazing would take care of any rhizome spread beyond the fenced plantings on dairy farms. Brown says there has never been a recorded spread beyond planted areas anywhere in the world.

Fonterra has a 2ha trial plot of Miscanthus at its Darfield plant, where it has had a dramatic effect on reducing nitrogen leaching from the factory effluent sprayed onto the pasture.

Lysimeters below the Miscanthus recorded nitrogen levels dropping away as soon as the grass was properly established, Brown said. “It is less than 0.1kg/ha. It’s a dramatic change.”

Brown said Fonterra had previously investigated dried Miscanthus as a fuel for its milk drying plants but it proved too light and fluffy for compatibility with its coal-fired furnaces.

However, Brown said his company now had samples of cubed miscanthus, machine-pressed into lumps of about the same density and size as coal.

The machinery to produce significant quantities of the cubed material was not yet available, but Brown hoped that Fonterra would eventually conduct a full trial. Although that’s not likely to be this year, Brown believed it would be successful and could lead to Fonterra planting miscanthus on a commercial scale at its Darfield and Clandeboye site­s.

The country’s total planted area of Miscanthus might then at least double from its current estimated 45ha, Brown said.

Tony Oosten, programme manager, energy and utilities group at Fonterra, confirmed that Fonterra was looking into Miscanthus as a fuel but large-scale plantings were only a possibility at this stage.

He said that a trial of the cubed miscanthus material would have to consider not just how well it was handled by the feed systems but also its burning characteristics, including whether it produced corrosive ash or undue amounts of hard deposits known as clinker, in the furnaces.

Meanwhile, Brown said another use for Miscanthus well-suited to the current quantities planted in NZ was as bedding for livestock including horses and goats. A poultry farmer was currently keen on a trial.

“I know that’s going to go well because that’s what a lot of our colleagues overseas are using it for.”

Brown says Miscanthus was also useful as mulch, and a trial on a Kerikeri feijoa orchard was showing promise in combating the guava moth pest.


Written by  Nigel Malthus – Rural News (09/03/17) – with minor corrections


Updated comments from Miscanthus New Zealand Ltd August 2018:

In the Lincoln shelter trials in Canterbury, pasture growth in the sheltered area increased by 14% meaning that this growth increase more than made up for the area taken up by the Miscanthus shelter strips.

It seems very likely that Fonterra will be planting at least 10 ha and perhaps 30 ha of Miscanthus this season. Two other dairy companies are also already committed to being directly financially involved.

Other farmers are looking to plant at least 20 ha of Miscanthus this season, most of them for their own use as bedding or mulch.

The bedding uses have now expanded to include dairy sheep – a use that has suddenly become the major customer for existing Miscanthus supplies. The dairy sheep farmers are also planting significant areas of Miscanthus to provide in time, their own future supply.

A recent interesting development has been use of Miscanthus in dairy cow composting barns, where it performs extremely well – perhaps better than the traditional sawdust that has been used in these plants until now. Miscanthus New Zealand thinks that this sort of cow and farm management system is likely to be the way of the future for sustainable and environmentally friendly dairying in New Zealand where animal welfare is also a prime consideration.  And unlike sawdust, with Miscanthus, the farmer can grow his own bedding supplies really easily.

Miscanthus Overview and its use as a Wind Break and Biofuel

Miscanthus is a high yielding crop that annually grows over three metres tall. Similar in appearance to sugar cane, it produces a crop every year without the need for replanting. Miscanthus is used for feedstock production for energy and non-energy end uses. It is a valuable crop, offering major benefits to many sectors, inside and outside of agriculture. It can also be used as animal bedding material and can act as an emergency feed supply during droughts.

Miscanthus grass forms a thick barrier which acts as an excellent wind break and shelter for animals and pasture. Rich green summer foliage is topped by beautiful arching sprays of silky russet pink or white flowers. In winter the foliage takes on a russet gold colour, producing a thick bushy screen that, unlike other forms of screening, does not require pruning or any trimming.

Harvested Miscanthus material can be used to generate heat and power and may be used as a feedstock for advanced biofuels, outperforming maize and other alternatives. The outlook for bioenergy looks positive. It is expected that significant volumes of biomass will be required; some of which will come from energy crops.

The Miscanthus growth pattern is repeated every year for the lifetime of the crop, and the harvest gives an annual income to the farmer. In the first year of growth stems reach up to 1-2 metres in height. Harvesting takes place from the second year, during which the crop can be expected to reach a height of 2.5–3 metres.  In subsequent years, it can reach a height of 3-4 metres. The crop has a useful life of at least 25 years. Miscanthus is not invasive like pampas or bamboo. It is a sterile hybrid, so it cannot reproduce itself by seed.

Miscanthus is a perennial C4 rhizomatous grass originating from Asia. It will grow on a wide range of soil types, but higher yields are achieved on free-draining moisture retentive soils. From the end of year two, leaf litter and canopy closure will give effective suppression of most weeds. Harvesting is carried out during late Winter or Spring. The crop is generally harvested using a mower conditioner or forage harvester.  It is generally dry when harvested but if necessary, it can be allowed to dry in the field before baling.

The benefits of Miscanthus are that it is high yielding, environmentally friendly, easy to grow and is low maintenance. It is suitable for coastal areas and performs well in windy positions.