Otago University has begun a trial of a large Asian grass with the aim of using it as biofuel to power its heating systems.
The researchers are putting 7000 Miscanthus giganteus plants on sites near Port Chalmers and Oturehua in central Otago to test its growth patterns and frost-resistance.
Lead botanist Janice Lord says the grass has great potential because it is dry, easy to handle, and grows three metres high yet does not seed, so should not become a pest.
Other biofuel crops like jatropha have failed in New Zealand conditions, but the university says this grass has a real chance of replacing coal or wood in its heating boilers.
About 15 hectares have been planted in trials throughout the country, but the university crop is the southernmost and the first to test its potential to suppress pasture weeds as it grows.
The university's energy manager, Hans Pietsch, says miscanthus is unlikely ever to fully power campus boilers, but it could reduce both fuel costs and climate-changing emissions.