Giant King Grass may not mean much to most readers. But California's Viaspace sees in this fast-growing grass a solution to two of China's most pressing problems — feeding its population and finding cleaner alterative fuels for its vehicle fleet.
Viaspace holds a worldwide licence to grow and cultivate the high-yielding plant, which can be harvested four times a year and the resulting biomass used to produce ethanol or animal feed.
Carl Kukkonen, CEO of OTC-quoted Viaspace, says that demand for animal feed in China had been growing at 12% to 15% annually as rising incomes and changing dietary tastes boost consumption of milk and meat. The milk contamination scare and economic downturn have temporarily hit growth, but he believes that the secular shift is still in place, which means China will have to grow more animal feed and Giant King Grass could be one solution.
He sees the animal feed market as an immediate opportunity to generate revenues, but longer term, he also sees Giant King Grass appealing to biofuel producers in China where “biomass energy demand is substantial”.
Giant King Grass can be used to make cellulosic biofuels such as ethanol, methanol and green gasoline. About one third of the world's corn crop now goes to making ethanol in the US and corn-based ethanol has been blamed as a major contributor to higher food prices and world hunger.
Cellulosic biofuels, made from non-food crop sources such as grass, are thus seen a “greener” option and attracting much interest in china and the West.. UK oil giant BP, for example, plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida using grass as a feedstock.
Viaspace has 100 acres of grass under cultivation now in Guangdong province China, and expects to have 300 acres in coming months.
More on Viaspace here