Development of a commercial market for Giant King Grass – a prolific, perennial proprietary grass developed in China and owned by the U.S. company Viaspace – is moving closer to reality. Recently, USDA released the grass from quarantine, which means it can be marketed in the U.S. and to neighboring countries.
“We don’t simply sell Giant King Grass,” explains Carl Kukkonen, CEO of Viaspace, based in Walnut, CA. “We will partner with someone in an energy project or we will do a licensing agreement.”
The grass has been growing on a Viaspace demonstration plot in California and in a pilot plantation in southern China. Kukkonen is confident that energy investors will be impressed with its production.
“Giant King Grass grows extremely well – to 20’. In one harvest, you can get 20-22 dry metric tons per acre, and if you are in a tropical area, you could harvest twice a year.” It can be grown in areas not subject to freezing.
Viaspace has one project in place in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its cooperator, Tibbar Energy, is located on St. Croix, where the grass is growing and will be harvested as an energy source to generate electricity.
“Our process of converting Giant King Grass into energy is an anaerobic digestion biogas plant that will produce electricity,” says Tania Tomyn, Tibbar Energy CEO.
“Giant King Grass has the highest gas yield of any bioenergy crop. It is drought resistant and thrives in tropical climates. It was a clear choice,” she explains. Her company also plans to investigate its use as baled forage to feed to cattle.
“In the (continental) U.S., we don’t have an energy policy that favors Giant King Grass for electricity generation. People can use coal and today, natural gas is very cheap,” says Kukkonen. “For biofuels, there is a better policy. The government limits how much ethanol we can make from corn grain. Last year, (2011) we hit that limit. People are discovering how to make ethanol from the green of the corn plant, and Giant King Grass is identical to corn straw for cellulosic ethanol.
“We are in discussions,” he adds. “We are talking to people in the Corn Belt who are looking to move where the fuel supply is. They don’t care where they build as long as they have a good supply of feedstock.”
Kukkonen anticipates that the grass will find its footing first in California, then perhaps in Louisiana or Florida. “Our business model is simple. Ours is a perennial grass. We can’t sell you seed every year because the grass will last 10-20 years. We get a license fee for all that you harvest. Because of the high yield of Giant King Grass, the customer saves a lot of money -- even after paying the license fee. ”