Grass could power university as biofuel

University of Otago Botany Department senior lecturer Dr Janice Lord inspects some of the grass...
University of Otago Botany Department senior lecturer Dr Janice Lord inspects some of the grass being used in bio-fuel experiments. Photo by Dan Hutchinson
Land leased by the University of Otago in Sawyers Bay is being used to trial growing a plant which could be used to heat the campus and has potential as a biofuel crop.

In a joint project between the university's property services department, the botany department and the Centre for Sustainability: Agriculture, Food, Energy, Environment (CSAFE), the university planted 2500 miscanthus plants, which is an Asian grass which grows up to 2m, at the former Sawyers Bay sewage treatment site. A thousand of the plants were also planted on a farm near Oturehua.

Property services energy manager Hans Pietsch, who started the project, said they were investigating whether the plant could eventually supply the university's boilers in place of the current wood feed. The plant is currently used in Europe and the United States as an alternative fuel for firing heating plant boilers.

Mr Pietsch said there had also been a longstanding interest in the potential of miscanthus as a biofuel crop, which they would also be investigating as part of the trial.

One of the things which made the plant special was it only needed marginal land to grow on, meaning it did not compete with food production.

It also did not spread on its own, meaning it did not have the potential to become a pest.

 

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