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Cattail as biomass

Cattails offer good growth potential, global adaptation, remediation benefits and starch and sugar? rich concentrations, making cattails an exemplary biomass resource. Sometimes considered as an invasive weed?, the farming of this well-known native plant of the Typha family? offers sustainable future use to modern man as it once did to indigenous cultures.

Cattails offer a natural solution to multiple environmental concerns. Growing Typha latifolia? and other common cattail species as a flooded field crop produces a starch-rich rhizome? and sugary stalk an ideal biomass for biofuels production.

Cattail has been grown commercially as a field crop for over 25 years in nurseries that cater to natural and aquatic remediation and landscaping plants. New research emphasizing remediation, energy resources, and valuable co-products is being done by Sustainable Technology Systems.

Peer-reviewed papers1 on cattail cite benefits in reducing microbial load? (up to a 3 log microbial elimination), heavy metals, and desalination?. Known as a source of robust remediation the world over, benefits to treating contaminated water-flows offer a way to support stewardship, new resource development, and profitability in a down economy. New applications in treating animal feedlots? through cattail farming can protect small flows and ground water from contamination concerns. Cattail remediation in wastewater lagoons? is practiced the world over and recommended in academic studies as a way to treat urban runoff contamination.

Value-added benefits become an economic stimulus for local and extended markets. Cattail stalk processing has been evaluated as a quality fiber? and pulp? resource similar to the use of sugarcane? pulp and fiber. New technological pulping techniques preserve the structural integrity of the rind, retaining fiber while preventing the re-absorption of the juices back into the pulped biomass. Juice is separated as an excellent sugar source for further co-product development. Additionally, soil amelioration projects combined with crop development in the cattail growth cycle can add new cropland suitable to additional energy crops, without affecting land use for food crops.

Wastewater remediation? returns cleaner water into small flows, significantly lowering nitrogen levels and sequestering CO2. Specialists from industry, academia and the US Forest Service? cooperate with investigators in community projects to demonstrate these benefits.

Field-grown cattails require saturated soil. Nitrogen-rich wastewater offers the ideal growing solution. To assist new growth, the field should also be treated to inhibit competitive weeds and certain microbes. Natural cattails grow best in swales and moist soil, or may be grown in a pond. Early but adequate growth in rhizome starches and stalk sugars can be obtained from drained fields. The stalks may be mowed and/or rhizomes may be gathered similarly to potatoes?. Energy efficiency should be built into the methodology of crop growing, crop harvesting, biomass processing, and returning cleaner water to local small flows or community water treatment use. Transforming non-potable water into a better quality of water to recharge nature without expensive processing saves money and helps the environment.

Cattail Biomass Starch References and Resource Information

  1. Cattail rhizomes are fairly high in starch content; this is usually listed at about 30% to 46%. The core can be ground into flour. One acre of cattails would yield about 6,475 pounds of flour. This flour would typically contain about 80 % carbohydrates and around 6% to 8% protein. 2
  2. Total (natural) hybrid cattail (T X glauca) stands reached 15 tons per acre 33.6 t/ha. 3
  3. Two years after germination, common cattail may spread over an area of 624 square feet (58 sq m).4
  4. Sight Characteristics: Common cattail grows just about anywhere that soil remains wet, saturated, or flooded most of the growing season5
  5. Cattail stands produce enormous quantities of litter. Established stands tend to grow on soils with high amounts of organic matter. Common cattail may also grow on fine-textured mineral soils, but the oils often have organic matter incorporated into at least the surface horizons.6
  6. Once the rhizomes are 35 to 60 cm long, they form shoots. In a single season, approximately 100 shoots and lateral buds are produced. 7
  7. Rhizomes may spread to 2 meters in diameter. After the growing season, a single colony of common cattail may cover 54 square meters with a total rhizome lemgth of 480 meters. 8
  8. Although they are available at any time, they are richer in starch at the end of the growing season. 9
  9. A few plants may spread to cover an acre. 10

Cattail Statistics and Factoids

Over fifty years ago, scientists recognized the benefits of cattails. Facts reported in Science News? in December 1955 continue to excite cattail enthusiasts. Here are some statistics about cattails:
  • A natural stand averages 86,000 stems per acre
  • Cattail heads contain about 300,000 seeds each
  • Each seed has an "umbrella" of 40 to 60 hairs to help it fly
  • There are as much as 140 tons of rhizomes per acre in a natural cattail stand
  • A growing plant can produce 35 shoots from a rhizome during a growing season
  • Large natural systems can come from ''one'' plant (over three acres!)
  • Cattail seed oil is similar to linseed oil?
  • Cattail meal (processed seed residue) makes excellent cattle feed
  • Fermenting cattail flour produces ethyl alcohol?
  • The Romans called fermented cattail flour "˜the people's whiskey"
External Links:

''Note: Many of these books need links or reviews on separate pages'' Much of the information for this term was supplied by research done by Sustainable Technology Systems

References I
  • Woodbridge, David D. Ph. D., Cattails as an Alternative Ethanol Energy Source, Pilot Project Report--Department of Energy Study/ Report: Grant No. DE-FG01-81AF-20001
  • Rejmankova, Eliska, David E. Bayer, Selection of Native Wetland Plants for Water Treatment of Urban Runoff; University of California, Davis; Technical Completion Reports (University of California, Multi-Campus Research Unit) Paper 769, 1995
  • Tilby, Richard, The Tilby Separation System, Company Narrative January 2009
  • Ethanol Fuel Production and Wastewater Remediation Feasibility Study Proposal for Otero Count, April 2009
  • Korth, Peggy, Cattail Histhings Newsletter, Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources, April 2009
  • Shutes et al. 1993 as sited in iii
  • Rejmankova, Native Wetland Plants, ibid
References II
  • 1 Korth, Peggy, Small Scale Biofuels Production: Vol. 1, Cattails to Ethanol, Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources, 2008
  • 2 Harrington, H.D., USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Plant Guide, Contributed By: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & the Idaho Plant Materials Center, 1972
  • 3 Beule, John D. 1979. Control and management of cattails in southeastern Wisconsin wetlands. Tech. Note 301. Denver CO: W.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.
  • 4Grace, James B.; Wetzel, Robert G. 1982 Variations in growth and reproduction within populations of two rhizomatous plant species: Typha latifolia and Typha angustifolia, Oecolegia. 53: 258-263. (17682)
  • 5 Grace, James B.; Harrison, Janet S. 1986. The biology of Canadian weeds. 73. Typha latifolia L., Typha anguestifolia L. and Typha xglauca Godr. Canadian Journal of Plant Sicence. 66: 361-379. (17673)
  • 6 Padgett, Wayne G.: Youngblood, Andrew P.: Winward, Alma H. 1989, Riparian community type classification of Utah and southeastern Idaho. R4-Ecol-89-01. Ogden, UT: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Intermountain Region. 191 p. (11360)
  • 7 Holm, L. J; Doll, E. Holm, J Pancho, and J. Herberger. 1997 World Weeds: Natural Histories and Distribution. New Your: John Wiley. 1,129 p.
  • 8(Holm et al, 1997)
  • 9 Harrington, H. D. and Y. Matsumura. 1967. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Albuquerque, NM: Univeristy of New Mexico Press 392 p.
  • 10 Fasset, N. C. 1957. A manual of Aquatic Plants. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, Madison Wis.