The Alcorn State University Extension service in Mound Bayou recently planted an entire acre of giant miscanthus for the purpose of research.
Miscanthus is commonly known as Elephant Grass and it is a high yielding energy crop that grows over 3 meters tall, resembles bamboo, produces a crop every year without the need for replanting and can be used as a biofuel.
"The scientist were amazed at how fast the miscanthus has grown since we planted it a couple of months ago, it is said to have the ability to grow up to 14 feet tall, but it has already grown 9 feet," added Farm Manager Larry Russell.
The plant can be used as a biofuel and in some places, such as Europe, it is currently being used as a source of heat and electricity.
"We are the studying the minerals in the miscanthus to determine how it affects the environment. The crop that we are currently growing is owned by a private company; therefore, any changes that we make have to be approved, but we intend to do extensive research on it," said Dr. Franklin Chukwuma, project director/specialist horticulture.
Miscanthus has many uses including a biomass crop for fuel for a furnace to provide steam power, converting to hot gas, thermo conversion to bio-oil as crude for diesel fuel, bedding for livestock, or as feedstock for cellulosic ethanol.
"It is a 20 year crop, and it is not very expensive to maintain.
"One of the challenges of the crop is establishing it and relying on the company that owns it to provide supplies for maintenance and harvesting," added Chukwuma.
According to Russell, in order to use miscanthus as a biofuel it has to go through a process of ethanol fermentation.
"We only have one acre of miscanthus, but with just one acre, the crop could possibly yield over 350 gallons of gas. It is highly flammable," added Russell.
Russell said there is some development being made to create a distillery plant in Natchez, that will be used to primarily process and study the components of miscanthus," added Russell.
The Alcorn State University Extension Service also conducts research on various farming practices, in efforts to improve the lives of and economics of small-town farmers.
"We try to encourage farmers to engage in alternative crops such as sweet potatoes, which also has the potential to made into biofuel. In the delta, cotton is one of the most lucrative crops, but it is too expensive for small-town farmers to grow, harvest and preserve. In efforts of achieving a higher return, we try to get them to focus more on growing vegetables because traditional crops do not appeal to small-town farmers," said Chukwuma.