What is Elephant Grass
Elephant Grass is the common name for Miscanthus x Giganteus, which is a sterile hybrid of Miscanthus Sinensis and Miscanthus Sacchariflorus.
It is a Spring planted non-invasive, perennial 2nd generation Bio-energy grass that grows up to 3 metres tall.
Once established it is harvested annually in the Spring when the crop has completed its annual growth cycle. Unlike other crops there is no need for any chemicals to support growth.
The crop grows naturally resourcing most of its own nutrients intensifying Biodiversity by providing a safe habitat for wildlife and reducing our over reliance on woodland. It can be grown on marginal land which compliments traditional food production.
As a high yield crop, it is a serious contributor to the bioeconomy combining raw materials such as biocarbon, lignin, cellulose, and ethanol. It contributes positively to the carbon sink from year two (carbon is stored in the soil and cane), a process that lasts, taken from data collected, for more than 20 years without the need to re-plant.
This makes Miscanthus vital in maintaining soil stability and facilitating the long-term sequestration (carbon capture) and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) or other forms of carbon to mitigate or defer global warming.
Carbon is sequestered by the soil on average of 1 tonne per hectare per annum (about the size of an international football pitch) in the soil.
The cane is 48% carbon (4.8 tonnes to the hectare @ 10 tonne yield) and can be used for energy for carbon neutral solutions or locked up in other products such as construction materials, animal bedding, textiles, and plastics alternatives. (see our projects page)
The Effects on Climate Change
The Climate Change Committee in its latest Land Use Report (January 2020) has made supportive statements with regard to bio-energy crops (biomass).
Bioenergy Crops: Expanding the growing of energy crops by around 23,000 hectares each year would deliver 2 million tonnes CO2e emissions savings in the land sector and an extra 11 million tonnes CO2e from the harvested biomass (e.g. when used with *CCS)
Bioenergy crops are faster growing than new woodlands and are needed as part of the overall mix of land-based measures!
*CCS - Carbon Capture & Storage
Why is Elephant Grass a serious contributor to combating Climate Change?
Current methods of carbon sequestration are mainly based around tree planting and forestry. However, given that we are now in a “climate emergency” situation an interim solution to the time taken for trees to grow, mature and sequent carbon is needed. Miscanthus can fill that gap and offer an enhancement to forestry which prevents deforestation (through provision of raw materials) and produces results in a much faster time frame as the examples below illustrate.
1) Newly planted trees take more than 20 years on average before they start becoming carbon neutral. This assumes that they reach maturity before being cut down as raw material for construction and other processes, burnt in forest fires or left to rot. Miscanthus contributes to the carbon sink from year two.
2) The water consumption of trees can have a major effect on our precious water supplies. Research shows that some reforestation schemes have caused rivers to dry up. Miscanthus, because of its root system uses little water, it can also be planted on flood plains.
3) Returning land from forestry to food production is problematic because of stump and root removal depleting the soils nutrients. Miscanthus is a grass and can be removed by applying a simple grass weed chemical it also improves the soil quality meaning new crops can be planted with ease.
4) It is difficult to calculate the exact amount of CO2 sequestered into the soil by a tree per year due to complex biological and climatic variables involved in tree growth, however an average estimate indicates a single tree sequesters up to 20kg of CO2 per year. It is estimated that a forest composed of Maple, Birch and Beech trees sequesters about 1.97 tons of CO2 per hectare annually after 25 years. Compare this to Miscanthus at a rate of 1 tonne per hectare annually from year two.