Miscanthus biomass options for contaminated and marginal land: quality, quantity and soil interactions (MISCOMAR)

Project abstract

Bioenergy is a key element of the EU renewable strategy and exists at the interface of policies on agriculture/land use and energy generation. Currently the majority of biofuels are produced from food crops grown on agricultural land, whereas the majority of solid biomass used for heat and power is woody and comes from forests. To avoid tension between food and fuel production, changes to the current approach are proposed by the European Commission to grow energy crops on medium or low quality agricultural land wherever possible.

The main goal of MISCOMAR is to develop techniques for biomass production on marginal land in Europe by:

a) improving the understanding of land suitability for Miscanthus cultivation in general and especially on marginal land and

b) developing concepts for sustainable integration of Miscanthus on farm and landscape levels. These concepts include utilisation of heavy metal (HM) contaminated land, sustainable intensification of marginal land and ecological and environmental improvement of intensively managed arable land.

Therefore MISCOMAR tasks will focus on the following objectives:

  1. investigate the field performance of novel, stress tolerant Miscanthus hybrids in comparison to the standard genotype M. x giganteus on economically marginal and heavy metal contaminated soils
  2. quantify the impacts of Miscanthus production on soil parameters
  3. identify utilisation options for biomass and study the impact of varying environmental conditions on potential Miscanthus end uses
  4. develop concepts for the integration of Miscanthus into existing landscapes, crop rotations and farming systems.

The innovative character of this project is a holistic approach which combines the identification of suitable utilisation options, especially for biomass from contaminated land, and the integration of Miscanthus cultivation into landscapes and crop rotations.

Methods and materials

Production potential (quantity and quality) of promising near-to-market Miscanthus seed-based hybrids on marginal land will be investigated and assessed. The hybrids originate from IBERS’ breeding program (Fig. 1) and are grown on HM contaminated land (Poland), marginal arable land (Germany) and as reference on arable land in the UK. The test site in Germany is defined as marginal arable land due to challenging soil conditions (high clay content, stony, often waterlogged in spring) and related economic reasons. At the test site in Poland, heavy metal contamination of soil precludes food or feed production due to health concerns (Fig. 2).

At all three locations the results will be compared to the standard commercial clone M. x giganteus. The hybrids were planted using novel agronomic techniques (Fig. 3) repeating approaches taken at the existing trial in Lincolnshire, UK.

They will be a key factor for safe and cost-effective establishment of Miscanthus on marginal sites and climates. Suitability and quality for combustion and anaerobic digestion of novel genotypes will be assessed, as well as phytoremediation potential (content of contaminants). At the end, concepts for integrating Miscanthus in existing crop rotations and landscapes will be developed.

Target groups

The results of MISCOMAR will help farmers to improve and diversify their income by including biomass production on non-profitable land to their crop rotation. MISCOMAR will also introduce alternative biomass utilization options for contaminated land and avoid introduction of harmful substances into the food-chain. This will help policy makers to drive an agenda of reduced health risks, environmental resilience and economic recovery in rural and polluted areas. 

Expected results

  • Biomass quantity and quality estimates (including chemical composition) for a core set of Miscanthus hybrids and a control grown in diverse conditions,
  • Determined production potential and biomass quality of novel Miscanthus hybrids for anaerobic digestion and combustion,
  • Concepts for integration of Miscanthus in existing crop rotations and landscapes with maximized environmental and economic benefits,
  • Provision of policy-relevant data on the balance between food/fuel production, with a particular focus on the scope for optimisation of land-use in contaminated and marginal areas. 

Research gaps

The innovative character of this project is a holistic approach which combines the identification of suitable utilisation options, especially for biomass from contaminated land, and the integration of Miscanthus cultivation into landscapes and crop rotations. The gathered data and the developed model concepts of the project will help to inform strategic agricultural policy development for increased sustainability and reduced environmental impact. Further, the project results will offer economically viable production alternatives for land less suitable or unsuitable for food production, with reduced risk for heavy metal introduction into the food-chain.

Fig. Novel Miscanthushybrids grown from seeds (photo from TerravestaLtd., www.terravesta.com)


Dr. Marta Pogrzeba
Institute for Ecology of Industrial Areas, Poland
Email: m.pogrzeba@ietu.pl
Project partners
University of Hohenheim, Germany
Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom

MISCOMAR Newsletter

Material from EUBCE 2018