Its appeal includes its great biomass yield, its greenhouse gas footprint, its ability to grow with limited fertilizer and its potential to stabilize and improve soils. Because of its high energy output, Giant Miscanthus has been used for more than 20 years in Europe primarily for combustion in power plants. In the U.S., much research is focused on its potential to be converted at commercial scale into liquid fuel for transportation. Giant Miscanthus is in its infancy as an agricultural product and as an energy crop. A wide range of Giant Miscanthus research, from agronomy to economics and from processing to environmental review, is underway.
- It has a broad growing range. In Europe it can be grown from Italy to Denmark and in the U.S. it has been grown successfully in areas ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to Central Canada. It is adapted to many soil conditions and can grow on marginal lands, but it is most productive with plenty of annual rainfall to avoid the need for irrigation.
- Giant Miscanthus is very efficient in its use of soil nutrients. It has high nitrogen use efficiency and therefore is capable of growing well on barren land without the aid of heavy fertilization. Following autumn freezes, most of the nutrients used to produce stems and leaves are returned back to the plant’s rhizome system for use in the next growing season. The rhizomes also sequester significant amounts of carbon.
- Giant Miscanthus is a warm-season grass that grows up to 15 feet tall at maturity. As a perennial, once it is established and harvested, Giant Miscanthus returns annually without need for replanting. A stand of Giant Miscanthus has a productive lifespan of 15 years or longer.
- Its slim lines and towering stalks have made many types of Miscanthus, a native of Asia, popular ornamental grasses in the U.S. and many other countries.
- As a C4 grass, it exhibits greater photosynthetic efficiency and lower water use requirements than cool-season plants. When burned as fuel Giant Miscanthus is generally considered greenhouse gas neutral (not including considerations for fertilizer or crop transport).
- The tall grass is prized for its ability to generate a large amount of biomass. According to the USDA, its annual yields can be as great as 15 tons of dry biomass per acre. In Illinois field trials, researchers at the University of Illinois grew Giant Miscanthus and switchgrass, a native grass, in adjoining plots. Miscanthus proved to be at least twice as productive in generating biomass as switchgrass in most locations.
- M. x giganteus is sterile and produces no viable seeds, so it must be established by planting divided rhizome pieces (underground stems) or live plants. While vegetative propagation forces relatively large up-front establishment costs, the lack of viable seeds makes it low risk of becoming invasive.