Is miscanthus the energy plant of the future?

Climate change is very easy to notice today, it is present in all activities and in every part of the planet. That is why the world is looking for plants that show good resistance to them, and at the same time represent energy crops, ie raw materials for obtaining energy. One such plant is miscanthus, which is not picky and is an excellent source of energy. We talked about it with Professor Dr. Zeljko Dzeletovic from the University of Belgrade.

Photo: Zeljko Dzeletovic

The plan is to increase the area under miscanthus

According to our interlocutor, Miscanthus × giganteus Greef et Deu. is perennial plant species (may last 20-25 years), adaptive to different habitat, soil and climatic-meteorological conditions. It is non-invasive rhizomatous grass, which originates from the Far East. Miscanthus has been grown in Serbia since 2004. In our country, it is currently (2020) cultivated by eye 250 hectares, mainly on a large number of smaller plots of land.

“In this and next year, the areas under miscanthus should be multiplied, primarily by plantation cultivation on large plots of land, on over 1800 acres. It is grown all over Serbia, from the plains of Vojvodina in the north, the river valleys and hills of Central Serbia to Kosovo and Metohija and the mountain plateaus in the south and west of Serbia, “said Dr. Zeljko Dzeletovic.

According to him, miscanthus belongs to the second generation of bioenergy crops. The first generation consists of the so-called food annual crops (corn, soybeans, oilseed rape), which is characterized by relatively low energy efficiency, high energy inputs, and energy outputs are 10-30 percent higher than inputs.

Bioenergy crops are second generation perennial (miscanthus, prairie millet, reed, common reed, Mediterranean reed, spartan, dense forest plantations of short rotation), and they have energy outputs 3-10 times larger than the entrance.

Half a hectare under miscanthus is heated by an average household

„Celokupna nadzemna biomasa miskantusa se once a year hair, in autumn when the maximum yield biomass is formed or during winter when the weather conditions allow it. In autumn, the miscanthus crop is green and moist and as such can be used as a raw material for biogas plants; for obtaining pyrolysis liquids and bioethanol“, Our interlocutor pointed out.

MiskantusPhoto: Zeljko Dzeletovic

He added that with the beginning of winter, the crops gradually dry out and it becomes suitable for: direct combustion in boilers or for the production of pellets and briquettes. Half a hectare under miscanthus should fully meet the needs for heating biomass one average household.

The biggest investment is the purchase of miscanthus rhizomes

In the first year, the biggest investments are, he claims. The land plot needs to be prepared (deep plowing, disc harrowing, harrowing). There are several producers in Serbia that sell miscanthus rhizomes. Micropropagated miscanthus plants, for now, can be obtained exclusively from imports. Planting rhizomes is performed or in autumn, in late October and during November; or from spring, during March and April. Planting of micropropagated miscanthus plants is performed during the month of May.

When it comes to the biggest charge when establishing miscanthus, our interlocutor emphasizes that it is procurement of rhizomes or micropropagated plants. The purchase price starts from 14-20 dinars per piece. For 1 hectare under miscanthus, 15,000-20,000 rhizomes or micropropagated plants are needed. Crop designed from rhizome sprouts 3-5 weeks from planting in the spring. From the second year onwards, germination begins in mid-April.

“In the first and second year, it is necessary to suppress the appearance of weeds in the crop, of which it is orphan most problematic to combat. In the first year of cultivation, the crop is not resistant to long-term summer droughts, so it needs to be irrigated. From the second year onwards, miscanthus is able to resist prolonged droughts. Miscanthus is able to survive in conditions of short-term to medium-permanent wetting and flooding“, Talks about the resistance of miscanthus Dzeletovic.

Miscanthus is not a picky plant, it withstands strong frosts from the second year

As he says, NPK fertilization crops in the first year are on fertile and moderately fertile soils not recommended, because it encourages weed growth, and the benefit for miscanthus is small. Their results show that on fertile soils (chernozem, fluvisol) miscanthus can achieve maximum yields and without fertilization with NPK. On less fertile land plots, the needs for NPK are moving to 50 place from the needs in the NPK that he has on the same plots corn.

From the second year of cultivation mowing and baling crops may be the only cost of growing miscanthus.

He emphasizes that miscanthus is not picky plant. It is used both as an ornamental park plant and as a pioneer plant for establishing vegetation cover on thermal power plant ash dumps in which coal is burned, tailings dumps coal mine and metal mines and flotation tailings dumps.

The soil base does not have a significant impact on the quality of the formed biomass, but it does have an impact on quantity, i.e., biomass yield.

“The amount of yield primarily depends on the distribution of precipitation during the year and the duration of the winter dormancy period. Miscanthus grows already at a temperature of +6°C, optimal temperatures for growth and development are from 20-30°C, and growth and development cease at 35 ° C. In the first year of cultivation, long-lasting strong frosts without snow cover can cause freezing and partial to complete deterioration of the newly established crop. From the second year of cultivation, miscanthus is able to withstand prolonged severe frosts without a snow cover “, he emphasized.

Miscanthus shootPhoto: Zeljko Dzeletovic

In the EU, the price of 1 ton of dry biomass of miscanthus is 50 to 70 euros

He emphasizes that it is the most important properly design the crop in the first year of cultivation. Biomass yields in the first year are low, 0.5-2.5 tons of dry biomass per hectare.

In the second year of cultivation they reach 2.5-7.5 tons, and the maximum is achieved in the third or fourth year of cultivation and lasts until the fourteenth year of cultivation. After that, the biomass yield gradually decreases, so it is not considered economical to cultivate miscanthus for more than 20 years. A biomass yield of at least 10 tonnes of dry biomass per hectare, from 4 to 14 years of cultivation, is considered a cost-effectiveness threshold for miscanthus.

“In EU countries, the price of 1 ton of dry biomass of miscanthus ranges from 50-70 euros. There is currently no market in Serbia where miscanthus is sold. However, producers of pellets and briquettes in Serbia have on several occasions carried out trial productions with miscanthus and found that miscanthus can partially to completely replace beech, oak and acacia wood as raw material, while when using straw from agricultural crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum) it is important improves their fuel characteristics“, Said Dzeletovic for AGROmedia portal.

Miscanthus improves soil fertility

Currently, the relatively low price of firewood and the very low price of agricultural crop straw do not favor the use of miscanthus. However, a further increase in the production of pellets and briquettes inevitably leads to depletion of limited resources for the supply of existing raw materials (wood, straw), so we should expect changes in the market that will be more conducive to the cultivation of miscanthus.

The first year of miscanthus cropsPhoto: Zeljko Dzeletovic

“Miscanthus during its growth and development absorbs CO2 from the air and through photosynthesis incorporates it into its aboveground and underground biomass. Combustion of such aboveground biomass significantly saves on consumption fossil fuels, that is, the production of energy from second-generation biofuel crops is energy neutral, the environment is not burdened additional CO2 in the air “, pointed out this expert.

The relatively large amount of plant residues of aboveground biomass and CO2 from the air that is incorporated into the underground biomass of miscanthus and other second-generation biofuel crops, in turn, directly contributes positive balance, through binding to soil organic carbon and humus. Thus bound carbon during the cultivation of miscanthus increases soil fertility, as well as growing legumes (eg alfalfa) increases their fertility.


Source: Agromedia by www.agromedia.rs.

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