Cattail Update

This is a quick catch up on Peggy’s efforts in the cattail development business.  Much has been learned and a good body of practice has arisen.

It appears that the use of drained land is presently the most adaptable to husbandry needs for the ease of operation with equipment that exists.

I would like to see a fodder field test.  The productivity is huge and it should give us excellent product for cattle.  If not, then we need to figure out why.

It is noteworthy that the plants will drown if cropped long enough.  This makes paddy control effective and easy.

Cattail Histhings
April 2010

Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources
40 Sun Valley Dr., Spring Branch TX 78070
FAX (830) 885-4827; Cell: (512) 757-4499

Welcome Aboard Investigative Team: Thank you to the sincere and qualified respondents to the request for participants for our rhizome starch study.  Our team members have varied interests, backgrounds, locations and talents—extremely diverse and this is a GOOD thing!  We have closed our admittance because the cost of supplies, postage and time necessary to consolidate reports has limits.  Everyone will benefit from the trials.  Our collaborations are confidential at this time so that we can establish a working protocol among ourselves.  Various supplies are shared and everyone uses his own equipment.  We look forward to a shared educational experience supporting each other along the way.  Over the next several months we may post ideas from certain team members that may be willing to offer services or products to other cattail enthusiasts. 

Discharge Permit NOT Required: A certified letter addressed to Peggy Korth as the Principle Investigator states that a discharge permit is NOT required to grow cattails as an agricultural field crop using community wastewater/ effluent as per our experimental outline in Otero County New Mexico.  Through the efforts of Sustainable Technology Systems, Inc. the Groundwater Bureau for the state of New Mexico has determined that a discharge permit is not necessary in Tularosa New Mexico on land designated to receive agricultural use of wastewater.  Special permitting often requires expensive protocols.  This letter is worth thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time and sets a precedent for projects elsewhere.

The community project ‘Cattails to Ethanol” is supported by Sustainable Technology Systems, Inc (STS) and funded by the Otero County Commissioners.  The preliminary cattail evaluation study under the control and direction of STS includes professional consultation services from a number of expert specialists in related fields.  We expect to clone projects following proper due diligence.  WATER’s non-profit education and research objectives compliment the efforts by sending highlights to you, the several hundred cattail enthusiasts that subscribe to Cattail Histhings.   

Congratulations Peggy. Great news!  MH reports…I'm working with a village in Ohio who would like to have their own sewer plant. The EPA says we can do this with little effort if we have a zero discharge plant. Since I want to grow cattails, sell ethanol and develop property in the village, it would be very synergistic to combine all. Do you have any data on water use, in addition to normal evaporation, cattails use to grow on a per acre? I can get the normal rainfall and evaporation data from the government, which is about equal for the area I'm working. So, the additional water usage is what I need to complete the rough estimate.  I plan to grow a 18 x 18 plot of cattails this summer to develop this data in Michigan , where I live. I'll send you a copy of my results.  In this case zero discharge is zero effluent discharge into any local streams

YES!  This is what WE NEED!  Thank you so very much for the email and finding out about your plans.  When you mention EPA does that mean your state agency?  Did they send you a written notice?  Do you already release effluent into agricultural land?  I look forward to learning about your results.  Thanks again for the email.

Dialog Continues… I'm working through the local village and their contacts with the Ohio EPA and the OKI ( Ohio / Kentucky / Indiana) commission that controls the sewers systems in our area. A developer in the next township was able to get approval for a private system, bypassing the county controls, by installing a zero discharge / zero effluent to the local streams system. I'm hoping to do the same, by using cattails to use the effluent. Wastewater sludge, for use as fertilizer, is also available from local treatment plants and is being used by local farmers. I was looking for a cheap source of water and if it has any NPK included so much the better.

No effluent discharge yet.  Correspondent question…Are there any papers available that indicated the amount of water used to grow cattails? A government sight, I found, indicates pond evaporate about the same as annual rainfall in the area of our Ohio farm, so I am trying to determine the additional amount used by growing cattails.  I’ll send data as I develop the information.
PK on EPA—An Opinion: Every state’s EPA has different ideas.  Some are more liberal than others.  I was told that definitely I could NOT use sludge (even if approved for release) in a wet environment.  Well, our growing beds do NOT stay wet.  We do NOT keep a crown of water.  We periodically flood the land as is standard in agricultural release of effluent into the countryside where permitted.

I do not quite understand the containment ideas that are proposed.  The location of our first trials, the land is naturally dry.  There is no regular run-off into streams.  Water does not percolate into the ground water which is 100 feet below.  The effluent is absorbed into the land and the plants take up the nitrogen as natural fertilizer.  The soil microbes are NOT regularly tested, yet dissipate nitrogen as a natural phenomenon.  Yet, we feel that the cattails will substantially lower the pathogenic microbial count even as they do in their natural habitat.  Remember we plant cattails as a field crop and not in a pond.

Ponds Can Be Microbial Incubators: We found that if a pond is stagnant, no flowing water, then there is an increase in microbial content (pathogens included).  When the sun shines on still water, there is a tremendous incubation effect UNLESS that water is flowing.  The flow does not need to be extreme as in a river.  The flow can be gentle and still have significant microbial reduction in the presence of cattails and other combined botanicals.  It is assumed that a new thin growth will have more filtering effect than a dense mature stand.  The web of rhizome in hardened patches can restrict water flow.

However, Ponds can CONQUER weeds in Cattail Field Crops.  Words of wisdom from our propagation specialist…  It takes effort to develop a field system that works. A rice paddy system, dry then wet then dry is a better fit for raising cattails as a starch field crop.  Weeds are the enemy with a dry production system cycle. Immersion (temporary POND or temporary standing water) can control weeds until a closed canopy is achieved (growth of stalks and leaves).  Once established cattails are mesic and not aquatic.  Then periodic flood irrigation after an established growth can maintain growth until harvest. 

Native Plant Specialist: If your community project seeks expert consulting advice on planting your field, obtaining cattails, or any specialized propagation information, please phone.  The STS Ph.D. commercial growing associate specialist can give you a bid for services.

Harvesting Equipment Scope and Scale: Size of the filed makes a great deal of difference in selecting harvesting equipment.  The harvest system used for cattails grown to be replanted or used in wetland development may be vastly different than harvesting equipment used to collect starch-rich rhizomes.  A proposed field production and harvest system for ethanol production is in a state of evolution.  .Relative small volume and high total plant value as a resale botanical is not the same as gathering rhizomes for starch conversion.  When you develop YOUR ideas, please let us know.  Perhaps we can help with a market for your products.  Let’s talk.

The SECRET of a Sterilized Field:  Controlling weeds can be achieved through chemical fumigation.  Unknown factors support the commercial field crop growth of cattails.  Cattails grow well on methyl bromide sterilized ground. Past commercial crop failures have been when fumigation was NOT employed/ skipped. (Read the section on conquering weeds above to grow cattails without this sterilization step.)  This is a report.  Please add your comments so we can understand your successes as well.

KB Asks: Can we plant from seed?

Absolutely Yes! Those of you that have read the Cattails to Ethanol Vol. 1 know that there is only a two week difference in seed  from root growth in a pond environment.  I have observed that seeds planted too close together have a smaller production rate than seeds planted with space in-between.  A clump of seeds just doesn’t produce anything.  A single seed sprouts better.  This self-thinning is also witnessed in dense field crop growth.  This plant is SO smart that it does not crowd its neighbor.  We could learn something from this.  There is a lot to learn….

All it takes is time and money to run lab tests.  Report on local findings as actual collected data during consulting trials validate progress.  Reaching into one’s back pocket to pay for confirmation of improvements provides due diligence information.   Collaborating improvement from our cattail enthusiasts provides a basis for universal understand of potential.  Peer-reviewed journals expect qualified scientific reporting.  Adequate compilation of data is necessary to publish new articles that can impact EPA and permitting authorities.  At this time only a scattering of reports fit our particular use.  Therefore, if anyone is gathering lab reports, we would be grateful to compare results.  Thank you for sharing!

Project Protocols: Start with understanding your compliance needs.  EPA officers may assist in writing protocol or directing you to a group that has implemented successful botanical remediation.  Yet… you may not want to tip them off as to your concerns… because that could trigger their concerns.  Standard agricultural use effluent protocols, should be SAFE within standard operating procedures for community effluent.  Rains and increased population have triggered new problems.  Solutions are sometimes beyond the budgets of the residents or farms.  When our readers find acceptable standards, please document the authority and get back with us.  We need to support each other.

Books Sold as Donations keep our non-profit organization active.  With steady work the non-profit remains minimally funded.  Two thirds of the annual budget come from my personal funds.  Significant grants require collaboration with large educational facilities.  Most universities demand 40 to 45% indirect costs to host a project and then the professor that serves as the principle investigator and his department get the lion’s share of the grant with minimal consideration to the origin of the initial idea even if I WRITE THE GRANT!  A better tact can be to target funds available to assist local governments make improvements.  Consider addendums to proposals such as microbial reports from local effluent test regimes.  Obtaining reasonable remediation charge for report numbers supports due diligence.

Excellent Documentation is Stellar:  Rewrite field notes on a regular basis to form a legible and comprehensive review of what is being accomplished.  A weekly summary is often adequate if a daily rewrite is impractical.  Another documentation strategy is to outline highlights and ideas in your computer as soon as you can and then expand the explanation as time allows.

Community Starts: This work flows through Sustainable Technology Systems, Inc., the group that recently completed the Otero County Cattail Evaluation Study.  We produced a 150 page book which is full of color photo pages of most of what we observed plus many pages of lab reports.  At this time I am working with New Mexico State University to garner funds to develop an educational program for farmers and communities through the non-profit channels.  The university people thought the recent study must have cost about $100,000 dollars.  Our actual cost was about $11,500 with the remaining $8,500 available for further study in that same arena assuming that I don’t ever get paid anything for my work.  And I do hope to get paid some day soon….

Proposals Proofs: The importance of a well-written proposal cannot be over stressed.  That proposal should outline your steps.  It is wise to include charts of goals, timelines, and costs with good budget justification.  Your periodic reports should validate your accomplishments.  And I believe in an excellent summary ‘book’ to give to the officials as a reference will prove that they got more than their money’s worth.  Combined projects often offer a more well-rounded solution to the communities goals. Please let us know what you are doing.  It is always inspirational to hear about your progress.

Information Powers Progress: BB Likes Links—The  link to our non-profit organization is  However, if you have questions, please send them.  The web page, like the book was written several years ago.  Most new news and correspondence from the cattail people is sent via the newsletters, Cattail Histhings.  The newsletter gives me a way to highlight what is important and not repeat too many questions as a forum might do.  In this nascent development we need people willing to experiment and share their results.  Contributing information helps everyone and especially the person doing the trials.  Everyone appreciates the giving of information and sharing of experiences.   .

CM Caring: I'm curious about the cattails being used to make ethanol, is it the root that has the starch?  How do they harvest them? 

PK: A number of people on the newsletter list use a variety of harvesting methods.  I personally prefer the field-crop planting using a lifter shaker (potato harvester).

DB: Anything new on the cattail front?  I see the name Peggy Korth in many searches for information on cattail ethanol, but instead of trying to read the reams of info you've put out there, I figure I can take a shortcut and ask you directly.  Are you still on the cattail bandwagon and how does it look going forward?

PK: I did not see your name on my newsletter list.  How did you hear about me?  We seem to always have something new to report.  The reams of information continue with lots of publications... some more applicable to 'your' projects than others may be.  I wear many different hats and encourage people to take self-sufficiency steps both solo and as communities.  Farmers should most definitely be self-sufficient

Scientific American Headlines: Breaking the Growth Habit Society can safeguard its future only by switching from reckless economic growth to smart maintenance of wealth and resources. 

Checklist for Registration for Conventional Ethanol Production
We, the small and mid-sized biofuels producers, are NOT conventional.  We do not produce the quantities the require RIN’s.  However, if you would like to have access to this very long and detailed explanation of the RFS2 compiled by the RFA team, please let me know.  (Those of you that assume that you will be in the million gallon-a-year production arena but have not taken the steps to hire and pay your environmental attorney need good compliance planning.  Small and mid-sized production just took another step in practical production reasonability.  EXEMPT!

Keep Records anyway…  Now as a reasonable and prudent small and mid-sized producer, please keep accurate records of all phases of your project and processes.  These records become more valuable as biofuels become more available.  If a regulatory agency becomes obsessed with controlling the small and mid--sized producer, then we need to support each other with real information that goes beyond theory.  Too often regulatory and compliance people are not thorough in their research and evaluation of potential problems.  If there is a case report that is detrimental, we need to quickly support the other side of the equation so that there is no BAD REP being falsely being built.  Also, it should be made clear to the industry producers that we are not their competition.  Our work can actually build a better overall image as well as supporting the peripheral/ adjunctive uses and processes.

CM Sharing a Joke: Thought I would share the link to this crazy machine with you

PK Gasps: Thanks for the entertainment, my friend.  The machine is not harvesting anything, but certainly disturbing the plants.  Any rhizome/ root fragment, or seed can re-grow the plant to maturity in one inch to two meters of water within two years.  One seed head has 300,000 seeds.  So this is an example of big boys with big toys that are not actually doing a whole lot of good.  If destruction is the goal, it would be better to cut the re-emerging plants six inches below the surface of water about three times in the following season.  Drowning is the best way to actually eliminate the cattails without the use of chemicals.  But it takes repeated cutting and not allowing the plants to emerge from the water.  After about three cuttings several inches below the water line, they usually die.

What is happening in the video is a real waste of good biomass.  The green leaves make excellent animal fodder.  The stalks are superior in pulp and fiber than trees or most other plants.  The rhizomes (the white stuff floating in the water after being macerated) are reported to have 40% starch content.  Concerning the environment, a habitat works best with channels going through a dense growth to allow better flow patterns for animals, fish, and water remediation.

What a trip!  Perhaps, some of our heavy duty equipment operators can use such a machine and the ideas to modify the equipment into a harvesting design.  Whoever thought up the equipment didn’t do his homework.  Mostly, when the machine is used as demonstrated, he has a perpetual job—sort of like mowing grass.

Another Bad Idea for Culling Plants: There is a program in the Texas Rio Grande Valley to remove hydrilla from the resacas.  The work crew dredges the biomass and stacks it on the side of the drainage ditches.  Then the first rain washes the seeds replanting the seed berries that are be lying on the side of the ditch.  Within two years, the plants have repopulated to the same extent )depending on the weather).  We should use this biomass and the ditches as a crop and cropland.  During our cellulosic trials the hydrilla was the easiest to break down into glucose.  But… I do not have the time or the location to prove this in trials at this time.  Let me know if anyone wants to address this biomass.  It continually clogs the waterways in South Texas and other parts of the world.

Investigate Sterilization and Sanitation Methods and Products:  On a small scale, it should be easier to clean our equipment than at the industrial sites.  Access and ease-of cleaning will help to control contaminants.  Abundant culprits await their chance to grow and thrive.  When meeting with Lynn Margalis—the famous microbiologist and author of 5 Kingdoms (among other publications), she stresses how colonies change to optimize their environment.  Providing basic nutrients should attract all kinds of multiplying organisms—including humans.

Avoid Dings, Chips, and Scratches: Excellent cleaning of all vessels, utensils, and counter tops, are a must.  When possible sterilize everything you can reach.  Any ‘tool’ that has a nick in it can harbor bacteria/ spores.   Unless a plastic (Teflon) product is new, then it can be contaminated in small scratches or manufacturing flaws even if you think you scrubbed it.  Do NOT tap your utensil on your vessel to remove water.  The tap can ding the rim offering another place for microbes to hide.  .  Ultrasound is amazing at loosening microscopic particles in pores and dents and a requirement in medical sterilization processing.  Discount stores have inexpensive stainless steel implements that can serve your needs.  Dilute sodium hypochlorite (Clorox) is pretty good to sanitize surfaces, but cannot be introduced into the mash.  A long treatise on sanitization is under development.  Do not tap the top of your containers.  Any dip or nick will make a place for bacteria to hide.  Keep everything clean and SMOOTH.

Quick, Easy and Effective Sanitizing: Most brew shops sell a rather benign oxygenating rinse/ dip.  As kind as the product is to your environment, it is a powerful antimicrobial.  The one that I use is Carlson’s Easy Clean.

Stay in Touch: This has been a busy month organizing our summer trials, writing a grant proposal and planning our next steps.  Please email us and let us hear about your plans.

Best wishes,

Thank you for your support of our non-profit organization.  Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources forwards research and development of technologies to solve environmental problems in clean air, clean water, and clean energy.  WATER’s focus on education and outreach continues to bring public awareness to a better understanding of how each individual and community can work in concert to address positive impact for a better world.

Books of Interest by Peggy G. Korth

Bioenergy Terms Glossary—An in-depth compilation of industry terms for biofuels, biomass energy, and electrical generation.

Small Scale Biofuels Production: Vol. 1, Cattails to EthanolA comprehensive selection of scientific papers, related narratives, pilot project study, and documents to address cattail fuel ethanol production and small flow remediation.

Small Scale Biofuels Production: Vol. 2, Bioenergy BusinessThe only Education, Outreach, and Training guidebook for small scale bioenergy business visits performance standards, protocol, learning objectives, and other educationally related information that can be an integral part of building your company specific Standard Operating Procedure or grant funding submission.  The sections that address building your business plan and writing grants offer a comprehensive overview of common criteria.

2008 and 2009 Cattail Histhings Newsletters—A compilation of reports from cattail enthusiasts, scientific and farm related advice, and cattail project related news.  Packed with useful information and growing like a weed, the latest issues include interchange of ideas and projects with cattail growers plus comments on current research and development.  Issues also highlight outreach and education with comments on government regulations, trials and successes.

Cattails: A Contender if the Age of Biofuels Coming Soon through Sustainable Technology Systems, Inc.: Off-site project development consultation and strategic planning.

Excellent References:
Alcohol Fuel References:
Biofuels Wiki  (Search Cattail) Simplicity in Applied Technology
Dave Blume’s Site
Basic distilling not related to alcohol fuel. (Distilling is distilling is distilling.)
The Complete Distiller" sold by Amphora Society

Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources
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FAX (830) 885-4827; Cell: (512) 757-4499

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