Baseload, Bioenergy

Giant King Grass To Fuel Bioenergy Plants in California

An 18-MW biomass plant is set to reopen in Imperial, California as part of the ML Energy Park after a 2010 earthquake damaged the facility. Viaspace signed a contract with Mesquite Lake Water and Power LLC to supply the plant with its Giant King Grass (GKG) feedstock, which will be mixed with wood waste.

An additional 16-MW plant located in the energy park originally designed to gasify cow manure will be converted to produce advanced biofuels with Viaspace’s GKG. The energy park has all the elements needed for sustainable bioenergy production, acoording to Mesquite Lake managing member Rodney Williams.

“Between the two plants, there is plenty of land for our energy park. We are connected to the grid and there is an adjacent natural gas pipeline. We are experienced in agriculture and have access to land to grow Giant King Grass,” said Williams in a statement. “The Imperial Valley has ideal weather for Giant King Grass and there is plenty of water for irrigation.”

GKG is a dedicated energy crop with very similar properties as corn stover, which is what remains after corn harvesting. When comparing each resource’s BTUs per dry pound, GKG comes in at 7,900, stover at 7,560, while coal is around 9,000 (depending on its quality), according to the EPA. Corn stover prices currently hover between $1.89 to $3.78 per million BTU and coal costs $2.36 per million BTU.

When it comes to biofuels, one ton of GKG can yield as much fuel as one ton of corn stover, according to a 2011 independent study. With these numbers, Viaspace chief executive Carl Kukkonen believes Giant King Grass is a worthy competitor in the bioenergy market. 

“An acre of Giant King Grass yields up to 10 times greater tonnage than an acre of corn stover…With our high yield, we believe that Giant King Grass can reduce biofuel feedstock costs by up to 40 percent, even when compared to projected prices for corn straw as agricultural waste,” he said in a statement. “As a result, Giant King Grass promises the cost-of-production breakthrough that has plagued the second-generation biofuels industry.”

GKG can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, and is quite hearty – it thrives on warmth and sunshine, which makes the Imperial Valley an idea growing site. Giant king grass can be harvested for pellet or biofuel production when it is 13-16 feet tall, or every 150-180 days. In a tropical area with a 12-month growing season, it can produce a year-round supply at 167 tons per acre at 70-75 percent moisture, according to the Viaspace website.

“[The ML Energy Park] project is basically in our own backyard. We are already growing Giant King Grass in Southern California and we believe it will grow even better in the Imperial Valley, which has more heat and a longer growing season,” explained Kukkonen. “Giant King Grass is a C4 plant, which means that it thrives in hot weather as long as it has water available. We expect to be growing in Imperial Valley very shortly.”