Mendel plants miscanthus on reclaimed mining lands

By Lisa Gibson | October 06, 2010

Posted October 1, 2010, at 11:25 a.m. CST

Mendel Biotechnology and Ohio-based coal mining company Oxford Resource Partners will team up for a pilot project that will experiment with growing Mendel's proprietary miscanthus varieties on Oxford's reclaimed mining lands.

A small trial has been planted this year in eastern Ohio to establish a baseline performance for miscanthus and to provide a crop stand to conduct studies into the potential of the perennial grass on the nutrient-poor lands, according to Rasto Ivanic, senior director of business development for Mendel.

Reclaimed lands offer opportunities for energy crops on several levels, Ivanic said. First, the land is less productive in traditional food agriculture, making a low-input crop like miscanthus an attractive option. The lands are also surrounded by a working transportation infrastructure, allowing efficient production and delivery to power plants. Finally, perennial crops such as miscanthus establish extensive root structures in the soil, which stabilize the reclaimed land and help to reduce erosion, he said. The root structures also enrich the soil with carbon, contributing to a favorable carbon profile of biomass production in general, but particularly in reclaimed lands.

The crops in the trial will be used for testing by Mendel and its partners, but if the project succeeds in developing a robust biomass production system, they could be used in renewable energy production, Ivanic said. The multiyear project and its scale up will be determined by the needs and objectives of the project and partners.

Ohio is a great location for the pilot because of its temperate climate and abundant rainfall. "Moreover, Ohio also has a strong agricultural tradition and is home to some of the leading energy companies active in renewable energy, both of which will be important in developing a sustainable biomass industry," Ivanic said.

Partnerships like this help end-users and crop developers gain experience with miscanthus in a bioenergy industry that's still in its early stages with many unknowns, he said. "We see this Mendel-Oxford trial as an opportunity to connect traditional energy with renewable energy in a way that creates new opportunities rather than being a 'zero-sum-game.' We believe the production of energy crops on reclaimed mining land would be a win-win-win opportunity for existing energy infrastructure, the Ohio agricultural community and the environment."