Scientists have figured out how to make biofuels with everything from algae to bacteria poop, and now they are turning to grass. A new European research project called GrassMargins seeks to discover a new perennial grass that can grow year round for use as biofuel. If successful, the project could offer a renewable source of energy that grows virtually everywhere, which would increase the availability of clean fuels while lowering their price. But first, they have to figure out which grass grows best.
The project’s main goal is to pick out a grass crop that can grow across large swaths of marginal lands that aren’t suitable for growing food crops. The research is a massive collaboration between organizations and universities such as Teagasc, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and The University of Sheffield to list a few. The European Union invested its own interest in the project as Ireland has to contend with waterlogged soil prone to flooding, northern Europe has cold temperatures, and southern Europe has salt tolerance issues.
One of the standout candidates the researchers picked is Miscanthus from southeast Asia. As a perennial grass, it requires no nitrogen or herbicide, and it grows fast as a non-invasive species, so it’s unlikely to grow on top of any domestic plants. Miscanthus produces 15 to 25 tons per hectare from very fertile lands, although the researchers expect yields from marginal lands to be lower. The scientists are also looking at other local grasses including fescue, orchard grass, and canary reed grass.
These grasses could potentially be added as feedstock for anaerobic digesters to produce liquid fuel. Alternately, farmers could use baled grass in a combustion facility to produce energy or heat.