Giant Cane (Arundo donax) is a fast-growing plant (3 in. / day in the summer). It is not used as a food source, which removes the competitive aspect with food sources that often comes up in biofuels debates. In addition, giant cane can grow in places where corn and soybeans cannot, so growing it does not take up land resources that may be needed for food. The plant doesn’t require many inputs (primarily a huge supply of water, so it grows along rivers and streams) and grows in dense groups, which increases land use efficiency. The cane also grows several times in a year, yielding several harvests in a growing season.
It does at first glance seem like a great solution to some of the issues surrounding biofuels. However, the downsides of the plant are overwhelming. As this article discusses, the group (Biomass Gas & Electric) wants to grow the giant cane along the Gulf of Florida. However, the cane is currently an invasive species in 6 other states. The cane spreads quickly along waterways, ditches, and streambeds, using up huge amounts of water, blocking out sun from other plants, and spreading quickly and disastrously. All evidence points to it quickly becoming an invasive species in Florida as well, but the company states that, “We don’t have any reports either in Florida or anywhere else of Arundo flying off anywhere,” Birch says. “It just doesn’t happen that way. I’m not saying it cannot happen, but we will be taking all the precautions. It is not invasive.” Unfortunately this just is not incredibly reassuring.