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In Sweden, there have been two serious attempts at establishing and expanding reed canary grass (RCG) markets. The first one commenced in the early 90’s with a robust support scheme from the Swedish government, aimed towards RCG growers. This led to establishment of numerous new RCG cultivations in Västerbotten County, north Sweden. The problem, however, was a lack of attention focused on the demand side of the market. This problem revealed itself as farmers were forced to sell the harvest at unsatisfactory prices. At the peak there was about 5,000 hectares RCG planted, a number that has now dropped to about 500 (in 2011).

A second wave of attempts to expand RCG markets are now undertaken by several projects and a farmers association. This time, a lot more efforts are aimed at creating a demand for RCG.

Ongoing RCG activities

Glommers Miljöenergi AB

Glommers Miljöenergi AB (GME) is a small company with 6 employees in the north of Sweden that has been working with Reed Canary Grass (RCG) for almost 15 years. The idea of starting up RCG cultivations came from the notion that there was a lot of old unutilized farmland close to Glommersträsk, which is a small town in which GME is located. The vision was to create a local lifecycle where RCG would be grown by local farmers who would sell the harvest to local energy users who in turn could return ash to the cultivation as fertilizer. This has numerous advantages such as providing work for local farmers, lowering energy costs for the town and making it self-sustainable in terms of energy while decreasing CO2 emissions and preserving an open landscape. In line with this idea, GME has adapted a lifecycle approach which includes activities such as growing, processing and small scale RCG combustion. Also, they have a research facility where pellets and briquettes are being quality tested.

Låttra Gård

Låttra Gård, located outside Katrineholm in the south of Sweden, is a company producing RCG briquettes and selling wood pellets among other things. The aim of Låttra Gård differs somewhat from the concept of Glommers Miljöenergi AB in that they sell RCG briquettes to large CHP plants. Their RCG business has grown significantly over the past years, mostly due to increasing prices for wood biomass and streamlined harvesting techniques. In 2006/2007, Låttra Gård was awarded 100,000 SEK from the Swedish Energy Agency for the idea of creating a local chain of RCG growers, processors and end users.

RCG Projects

Currently, there are several ongoing RCG projects in the north of Sweden. The RASLRES (Regional Approaches to Stimulating Local Renewable Energy Solutions) project has attempted to create a local chain of RCG production and consumption, where local farmers would grow RCG and local households would use the harvest for heat in household boilers. Technical problems with small scale combustion have led to the search of alternative sources of demand. The project is currently exploring medium scale combustion (~2MW) using RCG mixed with forest residues as fuel. Another project called “Bioenergigårdar i ett nytt landskap” is doing research on cultivation- and harvesting techniques among other things, trying to inspire new RCG growers. Glommers Miljöenergi AB (GME) is running a newly started project called “Rörflen i glesbygdens småskaliga närvärmesystem”. The project is focusing more on the demand side of the RCG market, trying to improve feasibility of existing demand sources such as small scale combustion. The project is also working with a mobile briquetting unit, the only of its kind in Sweden, which will be used in an attempt to increase the value of the end product and help facilitate small scale combustion.

RCG Farmers Association

The RCG project “Bioenergigårdar i ett nytt landskap” assisted in starting up an RCG farmers association to allow cooperation between RCG farmers. The association has been up and running in the north of Sweden since 2009, and they have mainly been working on and improving harvesting techniques to minimize cultivation costs. They have also set up a common contract between farmers and a large CHP plant. This provides security for the RCG farmers in terms of guaranteed sales, while making negotiations easier for the energy company that runs the CHP plant.

Problems identified

Too much focus on supply

During the first attempt to expand the RCG market in north Sweden in the mid 90’s, too little efforts were aimed at stimulating demand. This led to disbelief among farmers for RCG cultivations, as it provided more costs than profits. In order to create local demand for RCG, there are a lot of technical problems for small scale combustion to overcome. Since RCG is a relatively difficult fuel in terms of high ash content and risk for ash melting and corrosion, a lot of work has been aimed at finding a capable boiler.

Too narrow scope for demand

Previously, efforts regarding finding demand sources for RCG have almost exclusively revolved around large scale combustion. This has led to unnecessary high transport costs for RCG farmers.

Logistical issues

Even with small scale combustion units that can handle RCG, efforts to lower fuel cost needs to be made in order to compete successfully with wood biomass alternatives. Logistical issues such as processing, transport and handling techniques have been improved recent years, but needs further improvement. One issue is whether to process the fuel before transporting it to the end user. This depends partly on distance to the end user versus processing costs, but also on customer preference.

Technical issues

Technical issues are mostly about finding combustion alternatives that can handle difficult fuels such as RCG. The toughest issues in terms of RCG combustion are high ash content and ash melting (sintering). High ash content in combination with the voluminous structure of RCG ash causes the boiler to clog up, reducing heat exchange because of incomplete combustion. This in turn leads to increased emissions of hazardous compounds. Ash melting is a varying problem since the ash melting temperature differs depending on what type of soil the RCG has been grown on. A rule of thumb is that ash melting temperatures increase with the amount of clay in the ground. Corrosion, due to relatively high levels of chlorine, is another potential problem that needs further research.

Technical issues also concerns finding alternative demands, such as biogas, set up to handle RCG.


Supply and demand equally important

One of the biggest insights has been that when trying to expand a market, focus needs to be directed in equal proportions to supply and demand. During the early RCG efforts in north Sweden in the 90’s, new RCG cultivations were subsidized by the Government whereas little or no support was directed towards stimulating demand. The situation today in north Sweden is similar in that there are very few customers willing to buy RCG. To approach this problem, several projects are working to stimulate demand and find alternative demand sources. The company Glommers Miljöenergi AB (GME) is at the moment (2011) burning 100 % RCG briquettes in a small scale boiler (Catfire, 60 kW). The RASLRES project will attempt to cofire RCG with forest residues in a medium scale boiler (2 MW), hopefully during the winter of 2011/2012.

Another project, “Bioenergigårdar i ett nytt landskap”, is trying to stimulate the use of RCG for biogas production.

Logistical and technical progress

Glommers Miljöenergi AB (GME) has been working to improve logistic difficulties to increase the revenue for RCG farmers and the competitiveness of the product. Perhaps the most important aspect of logistics is closeness to the customer. It lowers transport and processing costs for the farmers and thereby allows the farmers to set a more competitive price. All market segments (small, medium and large scale combustion) need to be able to manage RCG fuel in order to create closeness to the customer. In the north of Sweden where GME is situated, the closest large scale combustion facility is about 90 kilometers (about 60 miles) away. This has lead GME to focus on small scale combustion within its own town.

Another important aspect of logistic issues is handling- and transport techniques. For farmers in Sweden, one of the biggest problems with making profit from RCG cultivations is that a truck load of chopped RCG can only hold about 11 tons whereas the maximum payload is 30 tons. To enable longer transports, GME is testing a mobile briquetting device placed on a truck, as part of the project “Rörflen i glesbygdens småskaliga närvärmesystem”. RCG in shape of briquettes increases bulk density significantly and thus allows longer transports.

In GMEs project “Rörflen i glesbygdens småskaliga närvärmesystem”, a 60kW boiler (Catfire) supposedly equipped to handle RCG briquettes, was purchased. The boiler however proved to be incapable of handling the vast amount of ash as it built up on top of the automatic ash removal system. After switching fuel to RCG grown on soils with less clay, the boiler has been running without problems.

Future challenges

One of the main challenges with expanding the RCG market is to find alternative sources of demand. In north Sweden, there are several ongoing activities that are interesting from this aspect. Some of the most interesting future opportunities for RCG lie primarily in small and medium scale combustion, but also in biogas production.

Another challenge is to continue optimizing transport and handling techniques to minimize logistical costs. This could potentially be achieved through processing the fuel to briquettes. New inventions can also be an important way forward, for example by coming up with a harvester that processes the fuel to briquettes on the field.

Finally, there are agrarian questions regarding seeding, harvesting techniques, type of land best suited for cultivation, restoration issues, drainage, fertilization etc.

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