Joint venture to commercialize micro-propagation of arundo

By Susanne Retka Schill
Web exclusive posted Sept. 17, 2008 at 12:59 a.m. CST

Georgia's Biomass Gas & Electric LLC has created a long-term marketing strategy with Hungary-based Pro System Group to adapt BG&E's germplasm and micro-propagation technology with PSG's Fit-Bio-Reaktor technology.

BG&E recently licensed the rights to a micro-propagation technology developed at the University of South Carolina by Laszlo Marton and Mihaly Czako that facilitates the mass planting of sterile-seed plants. The researchers worked with the heavy biomass-producing Arundo donax (giant reed) to develop the patented process. The process will also work with Miscanthus giganteus and over 50 species of perennial grasses. Although arundo and miscanthus can yield between 20 tons and 30 tons per acre, the major limitation in widespread adoption of two biomass crops has been the labor-intensive hand propagation and transplanting required for the sterile grasses. The new micro-propagation process involves a germplasm treatment and the growing of thousands of plantlets in vitro that are then matured in PSG's bioreactors for mass row planting.

"This technology allows BG&E and PSG to plant and grow energy crops in a matter of months," explained Keith McDermott, with BG&E's business development. "Previously this task would have taken years and was both financially and technologically not feasible." The European market needs tens of millions of tons of biomass per year to satisfy their demand, he added. According to BG&E, in 2006 there were 160 biomass power plants operating in Germany that used mostly woody biomass at an estimated rate of 7 million to 8 million tons per year. In addition, German homeowners have about 70,000 wood-fired boilers using approximately 1 million tons of woody biomass per year.

BG&E, headquartered in Norcross, Ga., is developing biomass renewable energy with three projects underway in Florida and one in Georgia.