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Miscanthus – Renewable Diesel, the Wood Vinegar

May 2019

This is the last article in the series on co-products of Renewable Diesel Fuel (RDF) production from Miscanthus and focuses on the co-product that probably none of you have even heard of before reading these articles - the wood vinegar. This is really the aqueous fraction of what is produced by the RDF production process.

Wood vinegar is in fact more formally known as pyroligneous acid but it is really a mixture of a large number of chemical compounds. That does not tell you very much at all but it is a fairly unique product that is well-recognised in Asia, which happens to be where most of it is currently produced. It has a whole variety of uses. But because of that, as we go through just a few of the many uses wood vinegar, it begins to suffer the same problem that Miscanthus does - namely that it sounds too good to be true. I have no doubt at all that you will be thinking that before you finish reading this article. But the many benefits are in fact real and the developing markets in countries where it is not already commonly known and used, are enormous.

The most common use is based on its ability to enhance various aspects of plant growth. It is reported to be very effective in increasing the growth rate of roots, tubers, stems, flowers and fruit. It also generally improves the soil and has an effect of eliminating some pests. It has a very good reputation as a natural plant fungicide and as such has a lot of potential in organic food production where fungal infection may be a problem. It facilitates seed germination and increases the quantity of useful microorganisms in the soil. It has many other uses in relation to plant growth enhancement including repelling insects and preventing diseases that are caused by bacteria. In addition to all that, if it is used in more concentrated form it can be a very effective natural herbicide.

As soon as Miscanthus New Zealand Limited (MNZ) can obtain significant quantities of this product, we will be using it trials with Miscanthus to determine how much it enhances the growth of Miscanthus in New Zealand and whether, during the winter at the end of the first growing season, it can also be used as a herbicide to control weed invasion. Miscanthus of course does not need any help with repelling insects and preventing diseases because it is so naturally healthy.

Some of the benefits of wood vinegar in relation to animals indicate that when used as a feed supplement, it can eliminate salmonella in poultry, boost the performance and health of pigs, significantly reduce odour levels and prevent or reduce disease in general. When used with cattle it is reported as improving feed efficiency, milk production and meat quality.

It can be used with cats and dogs to repel fleas and ticks. Where such pets are kept indoors and have an indoor litter tray, it works very well to eliminate odours.

Wood vinegar can even be used by humans.

Not surprisingly, it is effective as a multipurpose cleaner. It can also be taken internally to reduce things like acid reflux and incidence of ulcers. It even improves oral health and can reduce dental infections. It is reported that it reduces vomiting and diarrhoea and lowers cholesterol. There are many other reported benefits but this article is not intended to provide an exhaustive list.

Externally it is reported to be helpful in alleviating insect bites and reducing infection in wounds. With its odour eliminating ability, it becomes useful in things like preventing or perhaps fixing smelly feet. It has many other health claims some of which have been researched properly and some of which are so far simply anecdotal. But there are sufficient examples that the market for this product can be expected to be enormous.

Almost all of these reported benefits logically arise from its effect on bacteria, viruses, fungi and even nematodes, so none is really a surprise.

We understand that there is considerable research going on into uses for wood vinegar and the prospects for its markets are very positive. Prices that have been talked about to MNZ and its associates are significantly above the prices that have been being realised to date. So it has the potential to become an important part of the revenue stream from RDF plants.

With the current trend towards production of organic fruit and vegetables and with people looking for natural remedies for a whole variety of issues, wood vinegar seems to be a product that fits very nicely into both of these product utilisation streams. It is very widely recognised in Asia and it would seem to be only a matter of time before it is also very widely recognised in the West.

The next article should be of great interest to everybody and is much more focused on Miscanthus. It will be about the economics of growing Miscanthus and the economics of RDF plants. That is of course what everybody wants to know before making a commitment to invest in Miscanthus production or RDF production, or better still, both.


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