In southern Ohio, a variety of grasses, shrubs and trees are being grown and analyzed to see how well they can produce something that is always in high demand: energy.
For the past few years, Ohio State University researchers have been evaluating a number of so-called "bioenergy crops" for their suitability to different regions of the state, their biomass yield and their potential to become value-added crops for farmers.
"These crops can grow on marginal land and will not take away good land from food production," says Rafiq Islam, a soil, water and bioenergy specialist with Ohio State University South Centers at Piketon. "Our idea is to use degraded soils and land not suitable to grow food crops for bioenergy production."
Islam leads several bioenergy crop trials in southern Ohio, which along with the eastern part of the state, has plenty of hilly terrain and strip-mined land that could be utilized to grow these new crops. Plants being studied include switchgrass, various prairie grasses, miscanthus, hybrid willow, Sudan sorghum grass, sweet sorghum and guayule.
One of the projects, supported by grants from Mendel Biotechnology (a California-based developer of energy crops), involves the study of seven varieties of miscanthus and three varieties of switchgrass on a total of seven acres.
"Miscanthus is a warm-season grass from Asia that is getting a lot of attention across the Midwest because of its adaptability to many different soil types, low-nutrient requirements, fast-growing nature, confined growth, and lack of dispersal -- not like Johnson grass (an aggressive weed that can outcompete crops)," Islam says. "Miscanthus grows 15-20 feet tall and has a high biomass output that can be used for combustion or conversion to cellulosic ethanol or butane."