MFA Oil plans to use miscanthus for bioenergy

By Anna Austin | February 22, 2011

Farmer-owned cooperative MFA Oil has teamed up with Aloterra Energy LLC to facilitate the growth of miscanthus for heat and power, and eventually liquid fuels.

MFA Oil Biomass will organize local farmers in central and southwest Missouri and northeast Arkansas to establish and grow a target of 50,000 acres of miscanthus. “Our role [in the project] is to work with the farmers to produce the crop, aggregate the biomass and work with the end user, or convert it ourselves,” said Jared Wilmes, MFA Oil Biomass project coordinator. “We work with farmers on an individual basis, and that’s what we bring to the table.”

Some of the cooperative’s 40,000 members will be growing the miscanthus, Wilmes said. Interest among them is strong, as already 250 farmers have signed letters of intent to grow the energy crop on more than 21,000 acres.

Initially, MFA Oil Biomass will pelletize the miscanthus, according to Wilmes, but will work with other end users as more advanced conversion technologies develop. He said the company has evaluated several different energy crops during the past few years, before selecting miscanthus. “The No. 1 criterion was that it had to be noninvasive,” Wilmes said. “Some of the other top-yielding crops had some invasive characteristics about them. The energy content and yield of miscanthus are also very attractive—10 to 15 tons per acre, which makes economic sense at the farm level. We believe that’s a realistic number for a farmer to achieve.”

MFA Oil Biomass has applied to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which is what initially sparked the company’s interest in developing an energy crop project. Wilmes acknowledged the program has seen some setbacks, including dangers of the program being defund, but said plans are moving forward with or without BCAP. “Our project is the essence of what they were trying to create and promote when they established BCAP,” he said. “It makes things a lot easier for the farmer, and though the matching payments are important to the people applying for them, the establishment payments are particularly important to us.”

MFA Oil Biomass is currently working to have farmers start producing miscanthus in the spring. The goal is to have 50,000 acres established by 2014, or about 600,000 tons of biomass per year, Wilmes said.