Source: eKapija | Sunday, 14.01.2018.| 19:56
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Giant miscanthus future biofuel for heating plants in Sabac and Sombor – Grass hybrid applicable in construction, automotive and cellulose industry

(Illustration) The City of Sabac plans to build a biofuel-powered heating plant in 2018, and half of the energy sources, around 20,000 tons a year, might comprise of the grass hybrid known as giant miscanthus. The City of Sombor also plans to switch to biofuel, and the Sombor heating plant needs 10,000 tons of miscanthus a year.

Giant miscanthus is still a relatively new plant in these areas. Not even the agri-economists we’ve talked to are quite familiar with the advantages of this plant and the possibilities of having it cultivated locally.

The Sabac-based company Samiscanthus, which has been sowing and exploiting giant miscanthus since 2012, is already planning a big project with the local self-government in Sabac, in order to have 500 to 1,000 hectares under miscanthus, grown for the purposes on the new heating plant, in cooperation with the city. As the city officials announced, the idea is to have the biomass harvested from the Macva and Pocerina fields and for local agriculturists to earn money by selling biomass to energy producers, and for them to then sell the energy to the city, which would thereby pay four times less for the energy source than it does now. Samiscanthus is also negotiating with Sombor about a potential cooperation.

– Miscanthus has numerous advantages, among which is the fact that it is easy to grow and maintain and that it requires little fertilization. This is an eco-friendly plant, which doesn’t require spraying and needs little water. At the same time, it doesn’t harm the environment, is characterized by low carbon-monoxide levels and increases biodiversity and replenishes the soil it grows on. Furthermore, it is affordable and applicable in numerous fields – says Jovan Samatic, the director of the family business Samiscanthus.

According to him, they currently primarily exploit rhizomes, which includes the sale and delivery, as well as the full process of producing the necessary amounts, from the transport, through sowing, to harvesting. A rhizome costs RSD 18, and since it is optimal to have one rhizome per square meter, the investment for one hectare amounts to RSD 180,000. The Sabac-based company currently has 8 hectares under miscanthus.

– My sister Ljiljana and I are practically pioneers of the cultivation of miscanthus in Serbia. We brought the plant over from Austria, and we decided to start the business after many years spent in Germany, where we had seen how applicable it is in Europe. We believed that there was a good perspective for it here and that biomass was the future – Samatic explains and adds that his company also rents sowing machines and provides full consulting and aid when it comes to sowing and exploiting miscanthus.

This fast-growing, winter-resistant deciduous grass hybrid originates in Asia. It reaches heights of four meters and can be exploited for up to 20 years. It is being grown in Europe increasingly more, and its cultivation is up to ten times more profitable than the cultivation of corn. Yields reach 20 tons per hectare after only three years.

Due to its remarkably high energy value (around 17 MJ/kg), the plant is a great source of biomass, building and heating material. Research conducted in Europe and the USA has proven that its burning secures economic heating and power production, making it an increasingly popular biofuel in the world.

– Miscanthus is an excellent energy source and is used for heating, as chips or briquettes, and another important fact is that it emits 7.5 times less CO2 per kWh of the power produced compared to coal. In the construction industry, it is used in the construction of door and window frames, as well as for roof insulation and coverage, whereas, in the automotive industry, it can be used in steering wheels, truck components and oils. The cellulose industry uses it for the production of paper, cardboard and other types of packaging, and it is also often used for the production of pet mats – experts claim.

As said on the website of Samiscanthus, around 7-8 hectares of the plant are required to meet the needs of a settlement of around 15,000 residents, which is an investment of around EUR 12,000 to 13,000. Calculations in the EU show that the net profit amounts to EUR 6,400, that is, EUR 800 to 900 per hectare.

Maximum yields after three years

Miscanthus doesn’t require much fertilizing nor the usage of chemicals, herbicide and pesticides, and is therefore used increasingly more in village farms in many European countries, which plant it in order for it to help them treat waste waters, but also to turn infertile into fertile soil.

To clarify, research shows that this is one of the plants that, if they are cultivated for a number of years, lead to a reduction in the amounts of harmful matters, which is very important for soils which are prepared for agricultural works for the sowing of other cultures. Furthermore, miscanthus is beneficial to the ecosystem thanks to its biomass and the intensive photosynthesis, and the experiences of some miscanthus growers show that the plant’s needs are comparable to that of corn – plenty of water needs to be provided during the vegetation stage, but stale water must be avoided.

– The sowing is carried out in March and April, from the rhizome of the plant. It is recommended for it to be planted in water-permissible solid which allows for deep and strong roots to develop. It can be planted in lower-category soils, such as tailings and ameliorated landfills, thereby making use of non-agricultural land. One rhizome per square meter is considered the optimal sowing density now – Samatic explains.

He says that the best period for harvesting is from November till early May and that corn harvesters are used. The harvested miscanthus may be pressed into bales.

– This high-energy plant may be exploited for 20 years, but it takes 3 to 6 years to reach the maximum yields. In the second year, yields can reach 6-10 tons per hectare, and in the third year, 12-17 tons and even more can be expected – eKapija’s interviewee emphasizes.

Samiscanthus has its own mechanization, and Jovan Samatic emphasizes that the peak season lasts for two months, during the harvest, when they hire additional workers. He says that there are increasingly more giant miscanthus growers in Serbia, but that the areas are still mostly small.

Marko Andrejic

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