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Miscanthus: A smart solution to fight erosion

The Foyer Bothey, a residence for disabled people in Gembloux (Walloon town located in the Province of Namur, Belgium) will soon equip itself with a biomass boiler, operating with miscanthus. This decision will allow this residence to reduce its its bills between €10.000 to €15.000 and its emissions by 184 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Miscanthus is a perennial (20-year-old) plant originally from Asia, known as elephant grass. This plant grows very well in European climates, as evidenced by the many planted in Europe. Unlike annual crops, miscanthus does not require fertilisation or the application of pesticides. Miscanthus can be used as animal bedding, horticultural mulch, eco-building material and fuel. Remarkably, energy production from miscanthus has a totally neutral greenhouse gas balance, thanks in particular to carbon storage at the soil level and to the lack of fertilisation of the crop. In Belgium, farmers, public authorities and local entrepreneurs work together to set up joint projects that harness the many advantages and opportunities of miscanthus. The Foyer Bothey is a good example: for the supply of its future biomass boiler, it has formed an alliance with local farmers, who have benefited from the financial support of the City of Gembloux which – in addition – wanted to take measures against erosion and mud slides.

In recent years, Gembloux has been heavily affected by mudslides, sometimes of agricultural origin. To counter this problem, the City of Gembloux, decided to finance the installation of bands of miscanthus in critical places. According to studies, miscanthus filters sediment, slows down erosion and promotes water penetration into the soil at a low cost and free of maintenance from the farmer. Six farmers are currently engaged in this pilot scheme; nearly 3 hectares of miscanthus were planted in May 2017 at six sites, near roads and neighborhoods regularly invaded by mud. Crushed miscanthus will be used in the future biomass boiler of the Bothey Foyer. The residence will thus replace its annual consumption of 60.000 litres of fuel oil with a renewable fuel. By financing the miscanthus, the city will reduce its road cleaning costs for at least 20 years. The farmer, meanwhile, is assured to generate a gross margin of € 1.350 to €1.500 per hectare, per year while protecting its immediate environment.

Source: European Bioenergy Day