Producing biomass: Biomass types: Crops: Giant Reed
Giant reed (Arundo donax) is a perennial grass that can grow up to 10 m tall and produce more than 20 tonnes above-ground dry matter per hectare.

Benefits of growing giant reed

Giant reed can be converted to liquid fuel, or combusted to create electricity (Chapter 1 Biofuel crop sustainability, 2013)

It exhibits traits ideal for bioenergy crops including rapid growth, high productivity, low input requirements, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Giant reed has many advantages as a source of biomass:
  • it can produce biomass cheaply
  • it can produce very large quantities of biomass
  • it produces biomass every year
  • it can supply biomass in its first year
  • it can serve more than one purpose such as paper production or ecological restoration
  • it is much easier to convert to fuel than biomasses such as timber
  • it is adapted to poor, leached soils and are able to survive harsh climatic conditions.
Giant reed is found in all states and territories in Australia (excluding Tasmania). Courtesy of Australian National Botanic Gardens; image by RG & FJ Richardson.

Evaluating the economics of growing giant reed

The report, Commercial Potential of Giant Reed for Pulp, Paper and Biofuel Production, published in 2010 by RIRDC, evaluates the potential of Giant Reed to be grown as an energy and biopaper crop on marginal lands in Australia.

The research assessed giant reeds use:
  1. On marginal lands and wastewaters or saline ground waters, to produce lignocellulosic feedstocks (together with other biomass crops)
  2. For new second generation biofuels and/or pulp/paper industries for Australia.
Chapter 6 of the report assesses the cost of growing giant reed in the upper South East of South Australia. Three types of production systems including associated costs and returns were envisaged: dryland, conventionally irrigated and naturally irrigated.

Results show it can produce 45.2 tonnes/hectare/year grown on marginal land using saline winery wastewater for irrigation. In addition one species of giant reed can produce more lignocellulosic biomass using less land than other alternative biomass crops currently grown on marginal lands and produce up to 240 Litres of bioethanol per oven dry tonne of biomass, with potential of up to 350 Litres.
Giant reed is grown by for a number of other reasons (DAFF) [PDF, 528 kB]. It is a popular product for making the reeds for woodwind instruments like the clarinets. Other uses include:
  • Wind breaks
  • Erosion control
  • Saline ground reclamation
  • Garden ornamental
  • Paper production
  • Treatment of waste water
  • Forage
Giant reed has not yet been commercially grown or harvested but the process is thought to be very similar to sugarcane systems albeit with less inputs.

Growing giant reed

Giant reed is found in all states and territories in Australia (excluding Tasmania).

Because of its rapid growth, high productivity, low input requirements, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses it is regarded as an environmental weed in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia and is declared a noxious weed in 14 local government areas in New South Wales (DPI NSW).

Weed risk assessment: Giant reed [PDF, 525 kB]] is published by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The booklet has information on the ideal growing conditions for Giant reed and assesses the plants weed risk in Queensland.

Chapter 3 of the report Commercial Potential of Giant Reed for Pulp, Paper and Biofuel Production analyses the weed risk of giant reed, with a particular focus on seeking any evidence of sexual reproduction occurring within Australia. The outcome of the analysis indicates that giant reed could be safely grown in non-riparian or other flood prone zones with strict management guidelines.

Harvesting giant reed

Giant reed is not yet a commercially grown species. As such there are no established production costs. Costs of establishment and harvest are estimated to be similar to sugarcane, but costs of water, fertiliser, and pesticide should be lower.

Supplying giant reed

Production and transport costs are provided in Chapter 11 (Sections 11.3 and 11.4) of Bioenergy in Australia: Status and opportunities [PDF, 9.1 MB], published by Bioenergy Australia in 2012.

Contacts

Jim Cox

Sustainable Systems, Water Resources and Irrigated Crops

South Australian Research and Development Institute, Adelaide, South Australia, 5001,
Phone: 08 8303 9334

Jim.cox@sa.gov.au
Dr Stephen Schuck

Manager, Bioenergy Australia

7 Grassmere Rd, Killara, NSW 2071
Phone: 02 9416 9246

sschuck@bigpond.net.au