Emerging Feedstock for Biomass Power

Following my previous post on the industry perspectives on the various methods that have to be adopted for sustainable feedstock procurement (, today’s article showcases the various feedstock (emerging) that could be used as  a potential source for biomass-based power generation.

As you might be well aware, the first generation feedstock such as sugars, starches from wheat, sorghum, sweet potato etc are not widely used for bioenergy production owing to the food-fuel conflicts. Similarly, even the second generation feedstock such as mustard are not being used in a big way for bioenergy production. These days, more focus is being thrown on the advanced feedstock such as the third-generation biofuels ( these seek to improve yields through improving the feedstocks themselves instead of the processes). These feedstocks include those sources that promise to generate greater than 500 gallons of oil per acre per year. Examples include palm oil and algae oil, rapeseed and jatropha oil, grasses (switchgrass, miscanthus), trees (willow), halophytes (saltwater plants).

Provided are some details of the emerging biomass feedstock such as camelina, miscanthus and bamboo and their potential to perform as a bio-fuel.


Miscanthus, also known as Elephant grass can grow up to 3 meters high and it is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa and South Asia. Miscanthus is mentioned as a biofuel crop because of its relatively high dry matter yields across a range of environmental and soil conditions. The Miscanthus genotype most commonly recommended for biofuel production is a sterile hybrid (Miscanthus x giganteus) believed to be a M. sacchariflorus x M. sinensis hybrid.

Miscanthus utilization in the biofuel industry is primarily for combustion in power plants – it has the desirable properties of low water and ash contents. Current research is focused on its potential as a biomass crop for direct combustion and for lignocellulosic conversion to ethanol.

Giant miscanthus has been studied in the European Union and is now used commercially there for bedding, heat, and electricity generation. Most production currently occurs in England but also in Spain, Italy, Hungary, France, and Germany. Recently, Japan and China have taken renewed interest in this native species and started multiple research and commercialization projects. In the United States, research began at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001 and has expanded rapidly to other U.S. universities. However there is currently little published information on giant miscanthus yields in the United States.


Recently, bamboo has received increasing attention for producing biofuel because of its easy propagation, vigorous regeneration, fast growth, high productivity and quick maturity. Bamboo is an efficient user of land, and produces more biomass per unit area than most tree species. But the process of converting bamboo cellulose into liquid fuel is difficult to execute efficiently because of the extraordinary density of the plant.  However, new research from Mississippi State University hold clues for how scientists can learn to more easily break down bamboo, and thus more efficiently extract biofuels from all other cellulose sources using the bacteria from pandas’ waste. If the researchers are successful, the manufactured enzymes could be used in a new, much cheaper and more efficient process for converting bamboo and other woody plants into biofuels.

Fuel properties and potential as a bio-fuel of different bamboo species:

Species Moisture content Density Ash content Energy content
% g/cm3 % MJ/Kg
B.pallida 44 0.61 1.91 18.63
B.tulda 37 0.65 1.92 18.61
D.asper 37 0.77 4.23 17.92
D.membranaceus 43 0.62 4.99 18.81
G.apus 35 0.76 2.00 18.14


Camelina, an oilseed, is a rotation crop for wheat that can be established on marginally productive land. It is an annual, short season plant. Biofuel from camelina is an ideal jet fuel substitute. Camelina has a number of advantages over its competitors, including using far less water, thus allowing it to be grown on marginal land, thereby not taking food acreage out of production. Furthermore camelina has a relatively short growing season of 80 to 100 days, requires no special equipment to harvest, and the silage remaining after processing can be fed to livestock and poultry, with the added side benefit of increasing their omega-3 production.

Camelina is increasingly emerging as a prime biofuel source and thus attracts investment worldwide, as global demand for aviation fuel for passenger flights is now more than 40 billion gallons annually. In the earlier of this year, USDA announced two Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas devoted to developing camelina as biofuel in several states, including Montana. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has also recently announced a new pilot program of insurance for camelina beginning with the 2012 crop year.


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Narasimhan Santhanam

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