A miscanthus variety that can be planted as seed rather than as a rhizome will be grown and tested as a possible biomass crop in an agreement between BP Biofuels and Mendel Biotechnology Inc., Hayward, CA.

The two companies have signed a four-year agreement to conduct field trials of PowerCane Miscanthus and evaluate its performance as feedstock for biofuel production at BP Biofuels’ Jennings, LA, demonstration plant.

"This agreement is an important next step in our long-standing partnership with BP Biofuels," says Don Panter, president, Mendel BioEnergy Seeds, a wholly owned subsidiary of MBI. "BP Biofuels will evaluate our new PowerCane Miscanthus product in large field trials and test it at demonstration scale in their biofuel conversion process."

One hundred acres of the variety will be planted in early 2012 near BP's Jennings facility; the first biomass harvest from these fields is expected in 2013.

"As we move toward commercial production of cellulosic biofuels and work to bring costs in line with conventional fuels, agricultural advancements such as this will be a critical factor," says Sue Ellerbusch, president of BP Biofuels North America.

While the current publicly available miscanthus varieties have outstanding agronomic and biomass performance characteristics, they must be planted as a rhizome or live plug, which requires additional investment and equipment for growers.

"The PowerCane Miscanthus system will be significantly more economical and efficient for growers, and will allow the industry to scale up more quickly to meet renewable energy goals," says Panter.

Besides the Jennings, LA, facility, BP is also constructing a 20,000-acre energy grass farm in Florida that will supply a 36-million-gallon-per-year conversion facility. Construction on the facility is expected to commence later this year.