Sugarcane, canary grass can be used to capture carbon

Earlier this year a letter to the editor recommended planting trees and bamboo for carbon sequestration. For many years I researched sugarcane and “allied tropical grasses” as renewable energy sources under Department of Energy sponsorship at the University of Puerto Rico. The letter writer correctly identified bamboo as a tropical grass. But to call bamboo “king of the grasses” is probably a stretch.

In photosynthetic carbon sequestration sugarcane will outperform bamboo and do so under herbaceous crop management systems long perfected an mechanized. Its stems are filled with sugar or fermentable solids (Molasses) for making fuel or beverage alcohol (rum).

As a Lowell native I am most impressed with the local grass Phalaris canariansis (canary grass), a treasure of temperate humid lowlands, for forage for cattle and a weed to the uninformed. Its studies at Lowell reveal a self-sustaining plant with photosynthetic green-leaf surface up to five times its planted area. Its growing season is 10 months long, resting only in December and January. Its number of plants per acre vastly exceeds even sugarcane, thereby denying the seedbed to invasive weeds. This latter feature strong implies that canary grass photosynthesis taps in the sun’s high-energy “blue” region, inaccessible to most plant species.

Perhaps the term “king” should reflect a plant’s performance rather than its appearance.

Alex Alexander


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