Science - November 28, 2013

Energy from Ukrainian reeds

Albert Sikkema

Generating energy from biomass from the Ukraine can be both sustainable and economically viable, say Wageningen researchers from Food & Biobased Research.

The researchers have been evaluating Pellets for Power, a three-year project implemented by Wageningen UR and Dutch, Belgian and Ukrainian companies. In the project, fuel pellets were made out of straw, reed and switch­grass from the Ukraine. The switch­grass (a species of prairie grass) emerged as particularly promising.

‘The Ukraine has more than 1.2 million hectares of wetlands with large tracts of reed,’ says project leader Wolter Elbersen of Food & Biobased Research. ‘We have established that the quality of the reed is good enough to make pellets out of it. And that it is possible, under certain conditions, to harvest the reed sustainably.’ Reed cultivation in the wetlands does not compete with agricultural production, note the researchers. What is more, processing it into pellets could cut greenhouse gas emissions because the reed is currently often burned to make hunting and fishing possible in the wetland areas.

Pellets for Power has led to the first Ukrainian companies producing reed for local heat generation. Phytofuels, for example, a company participating in the project, has signed reed harvesting contracts with villages. These villages are the legal owners of the reed. Currently the biomass is processed locally and sold as fuel in the Ukraine. Under the right conditions, Elbersen thinks, the industry could grow to provide an affordable alternative to expensive natural gas from Russia. But exporting pellets to the Netherlands might be possible too, if the production and processing is further improved and upscaled.