New company to grow miscanthus in US

By Lisa Gibson
Posted June 11, 2009, at 10:26 a.m. CST

In the spring of 2010, Georgia will join the growing list of U.S. states that will be producing miscanthus as an energy crop. BiUS, a company established for the development of miscanthus in the U.S., will progress from its propagation crops and begin planting thousands of acres for cane production.

The company is a joint venture between Bical, a miscanthus producer in Europe, and Pyramid Farms, a miscanthus propagator in Canada. Georgia was selected as the first location for cane production because of its history of high-quality crop propagation, its favorable climate and resulting high multiplication ratios, according to the company. The company plans to expand into other states, possibly in Illinois, Iowa and Pennsylvania, but no agreements have been reached at the other locations.

"Our target market is North America," said Dean Tiessen, president of both BiUS and Pyramid Farms. "Wherever the climate will allow us to grow miscanthus, we will be there," he said. The company hopes to propagate miscanthus all over the country, focusing on areas with the potential for large-scale biomass production, he said. "Having plant propagation near final biomass production sites will allow us to maximize efficiencies," Tiessen said.

BiUS will take on the harvest, storage, transportation and conversion of the crop, providing the end user with square bales or chipped cane. If the market is close, the company may also offer to cube or pelletize the miscanthus, Tiessen said. "In some cases, the end user will want the material ground to a certain spec," he said. "All of this can be accommodated." Bical has offered the same service to its customers in Europe for more than a decade. "We have participated in every facet of the value chain from production of genetic material to the processing of the cane," he said.

Miscanthus is a perennial crop and takes two to three years to yield significant production. The company has three propagation sites in North America that will produce rhizomes for the 2010 planting. Each plant has the capacity to multiply into tens of thousands of plants over the next few years. The first cane harvest occurred this past winter and the crop was consumed internally as heating fuel for the greenhouse propagation site in Canada, Tiessen said. "Our current biomass demand internally will out-strip supply for another year or so," he said. "Though we will have much larger volumes of cane this winter and will be providing samples of biomass to various end users for testing."

Miscanthus is viable for more than 20 years and doesn't require fertilizers or pesticides. Its capacity to yield biomass in the U.S. can be up to twice that of switchgrass, according to Tiessen. "Biomass is in its infancy," he said. "The interest is there, but many people are speculating on how it can be done. The task seems quite daunting."

BiUS is ready to move forward and already has garnered some attention, Tiessen said. "The amount of inquiries we've had in the past six months is very encouraging and no one really knows we exist," he said.