|Giant King Grass.|
The ongoing search for biofuel alternatives to coal, oil, and other generally environment-destroying fossil fuels has focused on grass. No, not the type of grass you pick weeds out of on your front lawn. We’re talking about super grass, monster grass, Giant King Grass.
Left even for several months, typical Kentucky bluegrass — or any other variety you’re likely to plant in front of your house — will only grow to a height of a couple of feet, at least before the neighbors complain. Giant King Grass, on the other hand, will grow to several times that, to a towering 4 meters or 13 feet! A 112-acre patch of the grass planted as a test in Guangdong province, China in late-April of this year shot up to a height of more than seven feet in less than four months. What’s more, the grass is prolific, spreading like … weeds. A single Giant King Grass plant is capable of producing 20 to 35 seedlings each year.
It is this phenomenal growth that has caught the attention of Viaspace, a California company focused on developing renewable and alternative energy technologies and biofuel sources.
An analysis commissioned by an independent investor and conducted by the China National Center for Quality Supervision and Test of Coal compared Giant King Grass to several other species including switchgrass, miscanthus, and giant reed.
The findings are remarkable.
Giant King Grass produced a yield 1.7 to 2.7 times higher than its competitors and has an energy content of 18.4 megajoules per dry kilogram. That may not mean much in itself, but it’s notably only slightly less than coal’s estimated 24 megajoules per kilogram and on a par with corn’s energy content. What’s significant is that Giant King Grass grows so much faster than corn. It can be harvested four times a year in tropical and subtropical climates and reaches maximum yield by its second year, compared to other promising energy crops like Jatropha that can take several years before achieving maximum yield.
Giant King Grass can be used as a fuel feedstock in two ways. Since it has a high cellulose content, it is readily converted into ethanol through gasification or enzymatic fermentation. It can also simply be burned, replacing — or at least supplementing — coal in existing coal-fired power plants.
Of course, there are drawbacks. Like corn, Giant King Grass can also be used as a feedstock for animals. Thus, we again come back to the food-versus-fuel debate.
Viaspace’s CEO, Dr. Carl Kukkonen, commented, “While the energy content of Giant King Grass is higher than that of switchgrass, miscanthus or giant reed, the real competitive advantage of Giant King Grass is its yield which is much higher than the yield for these other grasses. This higher yield offers an important land-use advantage, especially where demand for renewable energy is competing with the need for food.”
Viaspace sees such potential in Giant King Grass that it is actively looking for wider, global territories in which to grow the crop. Yes, there’s still the question of whether we should grow food or fuel but, as Viaspace demonstrates, if we’re going to grow fuel at all, we may as well grow the most efficient fuel possible.
Read Biofuels and Bioenergy: Processes and Technologies from Amazon.