Thu, May 26, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Wild grass may become valuable energy source

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff Reporter

Many people in Taiwan are probably used to seeing wasteland covered by wild Miscanthus, a long perennial grass often considered a weed, but it may actually be a sustainable eco-friendly energy source, researchers at the National Science Council said yesterday.

Chiang Tzen-yuh (蔣鎮宇), a professor and chairman of evolutionary biology at National Cheng Kung University, said that with world fuel fossil depletion expected, many nations are gradually shifting to biomass as an energy source.

Among the crops used to generate heat and power, researchers have found Miscanthus an ideal bioenergy plant, better than food crops such as corn, owing to its rapid growth and low nutrient requirements, he said.

Citing an Irish study, Chiang said that if 10 percent of growing land in Europe is planted with Miscanthus, it can generate about 9 to 10 percent of total electricity needs in the EU and also reduce carbon dioxide levels through photosynthesis.

Many species that were once considered worthless are being re-evaluated because of advanced genetic research, such as the -cassava used in making the popular Taiwanese drink bubble tea.

Chiang used the domestication of rice and tea to say that “genetic diversity and the genetic database are becoming invaluable resources,” adding that Taiwan is just the place, with its high genetic diversity, to invest in such research.

Chiang said that according to Peter Raven, biologist and president emeritus of Missouri Botanical Garden, there are about 200,000 to 250,000 species in Taiwan, with one-fourth to one-third of them being endemic, or unique to a defined geographic location.

He added that England has even approached Taiwan for the seeds of Miscanthus condensatus, owing to its salt-proof characteristic.

In response to Chiang’s suggestion that the council establish a platform with strong servers and information security for researchers in Taiwan to examine genetic data, National Science Council Deputy Minister Chang Ching-fong (張清風) said the council was already working on it, adding that institutes from other countries have approached Taiwanese researchers for access to the genetic databases.

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