Energy crops do not enter the food chain. That is why scientists are looking into using them as plants to clean up polluted sites such as ‘brownfields’ or mining sites, or during extractive activities such as coal gas mining, in a process called ‘phytoremediation’. This kind of research is still young, but in France things are speeding ahead.
The French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) has carried out test trials with Miscanthus giganteus, an energy crop being used already on a commercial scale, and confirms the fact that the tall grass tolerates high levels of heavy metals in the soil, while only accumulating low levels of cadmium in its leaves as it grows.
Given this profile, miscanthus is now being used in a project to clean up ancient industrial sites in the Parisian suburbs. The project is part of an effort of re-greening the capital and of gradually integrating ‘urban agriculture’ into its fabric. The research is carried out in the middle of Paris (Ile-de-France) at a cost of Ã¢â€šÂ¬750,000 for a period of five years (2006-20100). Miscanthus is only one of the energy crops being tested, with others including several species of wheat and fast-growing energy trees such as hybrid poplar. The stated objective of the phytoremediation effort is “to create a new system of sustainable agricultural activities on polluted sites, aimed at generating non-food products such as fuels and biomaterials for industry.”