Regional biomass feedstock partnership — herbaceous bioenergy crop field trials

What is Energycane?

Energycane is a hybrid cross between sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) that produces thick stems and a related grass species (Saccharum spontaneum) that is adapted to drier, cooler climates. Energycane has characteristics of both species making it an exceptional biomass feedstock.

Sugarcane is one the highest biomass yielding crop in the world with average yields ranging from 22 tons/ac/y in Louisiana, to 34 tons/ac/y in Florida. Yields in Hawaii, where sugarcane is a 24-month crop, would be even higher in Hawaii if dry biomass were not burned before harvesting Much of the biomass lost through burning could be converted into biofuel. In Brazil, sugar from sugarcane is used for both food and biofuel. Sugarcane also has a high fiber content that can be converted into biofuel by thermochemical and biochemical means. In Hawaii and elsewhere, the high fiber residue called bagasse is burned to generate electricity. Since electricity can be produced by solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and other energy sources, biomass becomes a critical raw material because it is the only readily available renewable energy source that can be converted into high density, transportation biofuel for airplanes, large trucks, and ships. Sugarcane would be an ideal source of feedstock for conversion into transportation fuel were it not for one weakness - its high demand for precise water management to produce high sugar yields.

Why Energycane?

Energycane, on the other hand, does not require precise water management as sugarcane and produces more biomass than other C4 grasses such as switchgrass and Miscanthus. Furthermore, energycane is a non-food product and is not a commodity for the food versus fuel controversy.

For the Sun Grant Initiative’s Regional Biomass Feedstock Partnership:

Several cold tolerant varieties have been developed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Houma, Louisiana for cultivation in colder regions of the U.S. Five varieties of cold hardy energycane are currently being evaluated at eight locations in the US under the Sun Grant Initiative to Mississippi State through the North-Central Regional Office at South Dakota State University. Three locations in Mississippi and Georgia are 100 to 250 miles north of the typical sugarcane growing regions in the Southeastern U.S. These same varieties were sent to the University of Hawaii and planted under strict quarantine regulations at the University of Hawaii’s Waimanalo Research Station on Oahu for eventual testing in the cool upper elevations of Hawaii where temperatures are too cold for sugarcane. Yields of 24 tons of dry matter have been recorded in Texas under this regional energycane project and our goal is to produce even higher dry matter yields in Hawaii.

Project Details:

Cold-tolerant energycane varieties from Houma, Louisiana were planted under quarantine conditions at the University of Hawaii’s experiment station in Waimanalo, Oahu at an elevation of 65 feet above sea level.