Company to optimize energy crops

By Anna Austin
Posted January 29, 2010, at 8:39 a.m. CST

A company in Indiana aims to streamline Miscanthus giganteus and Arundo donax (giant reed) production by offering growers plantlets resulting from a micropropagation technology.

Both crops are high-yielding perennial grasses that have been studied as potential biomass feedstocks for quite some time, but their use as a commercial-scale energy crop has been slow to fruition due to their sterile nature and above-average labor intensity involved in harvesting the plants.

White Technology LLC acquired an exclusive license for the micropropagation technology, developed by University of South Carolina plant geneticists Laszlo Marton and Mihaly Czako, about a year ago. It utilizes the regenerative nature of miscanthus and arundo to enable mass plantings of the crops.

President Kenn Davis said the technology is superior to traditional methods of growing the crops, in that thousands to millions more plants can be grown in the same amount of time required by other companies working to develop and plant rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontal, underground plant stems, which are cut from mature plants and then planted for reproduction.

"We'll be able to support large farm operations, large enough to support biomass feedstocks for energy plants in a much shorter period of time; it's a lot more reliable," Davis said.

Davis said White Technology is putting together package deals for buyers and is currently taking orders. He said interest in the crops has been "overwhelming," but the company has found very few who are interested in actually purchasing the plantlets. Rather, the majority of inquiries are persons looking for the mature plants to use as feedstocks at biomass plants. "So we're working to incorporate that philosophy into a package deal," he added. "We have a lot going on."