Research by the Bio-Re-Gen (Biomass, Remediation, re-Generation) project team at Teesside University has revealed that reed-canary grass can be turned into an excellent fuel for biomass power stations.
The team began their project in 2004 to see which plants could best be grown on brownfield sites, as a way of improving the landscape.
The native British grass can be turned into bricks and pellets, which burn well and are non-polluting.
The team experimented with four types of plant, willow trees – the current favourite for biomass power stations – and the miscanthus, reed-canary and switch grasses.
Tests were carried out on sites around the region, with work supported by a €1.2m (£1m) grant from the European Union’s Life-Environment research programme.
Dr Richard Lord, reader in Environmental Geochemistry and Sustainability, said: ‘We have narrowed the plants down to reed-canary grass because it grows well on poor soils and contaminated industrial sites. That is significant because, in areas like Teesside and many similar ones around the country, there are a lot of marginal or brownfield sites on which reed-canary grass can be grown.
‘Selecting such sites means that the grass can be grown without taking away land that would otherwise be used in food production, a key concern for those involved in the biomass and biofuel sectors.’
Having reached maturity, which takes two years, reed-canary grass is harvested and baled up before being turned into bricks and pellets.
Dr Lord said: ‘The test burnings have shown that reed-canary grass produces a good, clean fuel without picking up contamination from the soil.
‘Reed-canary grass has great potential because it offers a suitable use for unsightly brownfield sites while producing an excellent fuel at a time when the world is crying out for new ways of producing green energy.
‘Our research also suggests that the end product is improved soil quality and biodiversity at the greened-up sites.
‘We are now examining ways in which we can commercialise this idea and are already talking to a number of major biomass power-station operators.’