Research is under way to develope Miscanthus x giganteus as a source of biomass for the production of energy either for direct combustion or through cellulosic ethanol or other biofuel production. Miscanthus is grown in Europe mainly for cofiring in coal power generating facilities, and could supply 12% of the EU’s energy need by 2050. In the United States, SunBelt Biofuels founder Phillip Jennings has worked with Mississippi State’s Brian Baldwin to develop a more effective, marketable Miscanthus grass strain.
Another major potential benefit of Miscanthus grass is that it is not a food crop. Corn-based ethanol, which is the version with which most people are familiar, is based on creating fuel from a product that could be used to feed people or livestock. When market forces change the demand for corn, prices can fluctuate wildly, deeply affecting the ability of many to purchase food. Since Miscanthus grass is not a food crop in the Western Hemisphere, changes in demand will not have a direct effect on the price of food, unless land used for food crops is converted to growing this crop.
Comparison to timber and other grasses
Wood timber is one of the worst sources for ethanol production. At a maximum of four tons of biomass per acre, and around 520 gallons of ethanol produced, it is a relatively poor performer, compared to Miscanthus’s 3,250 gallons, assuming it could be grown on the same land. While this may seem like an unfair comparison, Miscanthus even outperforms other grasses, such as switchgrass, which yields around 3-6 tons of biomass and 400-900 gallons of ethanol fuel.
Farmers in eight northeast Arkansas counties will grow the biomass crop miscanthus as part of a federal renewable energy project.