Bright future for alternative ‘black’ biomass crop

Researchers from the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) at the University of Illinois (UI), US are evaluating the biomass potential of woody crops and their work is making them take a close look at the Robinia pseudoacacia tree – otherwise known as the black locust.

According to UI associate professor of crop sciences Gary Kling, it has been displaying a higher yield and a faster harvest time than other woody plant species evaluated.

‘For now the only thing you can do with it is for direct combustion,’ Kling was quoted as saying. ‘But if it becomes a major crop other researchers could start working on the process of how to break it down.’

The EBI is working on how to get the sugars out of plants and turn those to alcohols, but Kling says it is ‘a very tough thing to do, but our plan is to be able to take anything we grow and convert it into a drop-in fuel’.

Other researchers in the programme have evaluated miscanthus, switchgrass and prairie cord grass, while Kling and his team is examining which short-rotation woody crops grow best in the Midwest.

Robinia pseudoacacia is showing great potential as a biomass crop for Midwestern energy production, out-yielding the next closest species nearly three-fold," Kling adds. ‘Other crops may catch up, but black locust was the fastest out of the gate.’

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