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Miscanthus New Zealand widens its horizons

Miscanthus New Zealand widens its horizons

The Te Awamutu based company, Miscanthus New Zealand Limited (MNZ), is moving to widen the appeal of Miscanthus products. This company, which over the last 6 years has been introducing to New Zealand the sterile perennial 4 m tall woody grass called Miscanthus, has been active in expanding the range of markets into which harvested Miscanthus can go.

MNZ has not been constrained by traditional international uses for Miscanthus, but with assistance of innovative associated businesses has been continuously looking at a wider range of uses that suit New Zealand. Where such uses are developed in New Zealand, they also have the potential for the resulting intellectual property to then be used internationally.

Peter Brown, managing director of MNZ said “As an example, in no other country has anybody been looking at Miscanthus for the provision of shelter on centre pivot irrigated dairy farms - work that has been initiated, successfully researched and demonstrated by Lincoln University.” He added “Another example is that nowhere else is Miscanthus the main feedstock for production of renewable diesel - something that is close to happening in New Zealand, using proven USA technology. To make things even better, one of the by-products of this process is biochar that is of activated-carbon quality.”

“New Zealand is also poised to commence evaluating the use of Miscanthus biochar to increase growth rate in cattle while at the same time potentially reducing their methane emissions” Brown concluded. The methane work is being carried out by the University of Tennessee.

In addition to these uses, MNZ is producing top-quality racehorse bedding through a rapidly expanding joint-venture that started operations late last year. MNZ is also getting Miscanthus harvest material transformed into large pellet form so that it can be used efficiently in standard boilers with feedstock handling systems that are designed to handle coal. A successful demonstration trial has been completed.

At the same time, Fonterra research in Canterbury has shown that nitrogen leaching from below a Miscanthus stand is significantly less than leaching from adjoining pasture. In fact, Miscanthus rivals pine forest in reducing nitrogen leaching into water tables. This study has been carried out on a site where dairy factory effluent is being spray irrigated. Many other companies similarly need to dispose of nutrient rich effluent, as do local authorities who have land-based sewage disposal issues to address. Miscanthus offers them a viable productive perennial crop that significantly reduces nitrogen leaching and also provides revenue. A proposal for one such project is being completed by an independent consultant, Tony Rhodes. He has seen the potential for Miscanthus to solve local authorities’ effluent disposal problems and is advocating land based effluent disposal onto Miscanthus stands, while at the same time creating a useful – non-food – crop.

“The only thing that is preventing MNZ from reaching its proven potential as a viable enterprise that has wide reaching benefits for NZ agriculture and the energy sector, is a lack of investment capital” Brown says, “so MNZ is now looking actively for an investment partner.” This will allow MNZ to accelerate the development of multiple revenue streams for foundation customers who have had the confidence to purchase Miscanthus plants to get initial commercial scale stands established.

MNZ is now at a point where such investment will make this exciting new enterprise a commercially viable and environmentally sustainable land management business. It will have far reaching benefits for NZ agriculture, while at the same time significantly reducing New Zealand's net greenhouse gas emissions and helping to denitrify groundwater and streams. Who would not want to help to achieve that?

ENDS

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