MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Researchers at West Virginia University have been testing the resiliency of one type of perennial grass on different types of land for since 2018. The grass, Miscanthus x giganteus, or elephant grass, could be used as a source of clean energy in the future.

Ember Morrissey, WVU Environmental Biology Associate Professor said the technology is being developed but is not complete yet. “We are studying how the plant interacts with microbes and soil conditions, so that whenever the technology is ready to start using it as a biofuel crop, it will be, we will have all the information to grow it in a robust way,” said Morrissey.

One type of land being used is the standard farmland, where the elephant grass seems to grow denser and at a faster rate, in comparison to the same plant growing on the second type of land, which is abandoned mine lands.  

“We have in our state roughly 500,000 acres, which isn’t a lot, it’s maybe one or two percent of the land area, so it’s not a huge amount, but its pretty critical that that land not be pollutional,“ said Jeff Skousen, WVU Professor Of Soil Science, WV Reclamation Specialist.

WVU researchers are trying to find the most beneficial way to grow the elephant grass on the abandoned mine lands sites, since they say the plant will improve the quality of that marginal soil over time. 

“Because the biomass is so great on this, a lot of that will be transferred into the soil, which will only help the soil by translocating that biomass organic matter into the soil, which then will stimulate the micro organisms, which will help the plant grow more, which will stimulate the micro-anyway, it’s a wonderful cycle that we can introduce on these marginal lands,” said Skousen.

Morrisey says they hope to learn what the best management practices are for elephant grass so that we can ensure the production of these crops is resilient to variations in the climate. The researchers have funds for four and a half more years through the USDA to continue their research.