Meow might be money for switchgrass. Or at least signal a breakthrough in commercial switchgrass markets.
Feedback from producers shows there is interest in growing switchgrass. Since late 2011, CenUSA has developed an extensive resource library to show producers how to grow, harvest, and store switchgrass. But without a market, no rational producer is going to invest in planting perennial grasses.
OurPets® Switchgrass Natural Cat Litter with Biochar might just give switchgrass the bump it needs to become a commercial player in a $2.5 billion market. OurPets® is an Ohio company focused on improving the “health, safety, comfort and enjoyment of pets.” One of their products of great importance to cat owners is cat litter. When we learned OurPet’s® had launched a product made with switchgrass and biochar, BLADES had to investigate.
Our research led us to Dr. Steven Tsengas, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of OurPets®. Dr. Tsengas, a busy executive and inventor well into his eighth decade was generous with his time in explaining how switchgrass and biochar litter have been honored with U.S. Patent 9357747.
Dr. Tsengas and his team have been pursuing entry into the $250 million “natural litter” market for some time. To achieve the proper level of litter box odor control and clumping action, OurPets® took a journey through agriculture. First, there was the distillers dried grains, but the price of that product shot up with the growth of the ethanol market. After a few forays into other biofeedstocks, and with the help of Resource Efficient Agricultural Production (REAP)-Canada, OurPets® settled on switchgrass. For Tsengas the perennial was attractive as it was not a food crop subject to significant price fluctuations.
Tsengas was especially concerned about odor control and clumping action. Working with Roger Samson, Executive Director of REAP-Canada, the team was able to develop a switchgrass based litter product. Samson is very excited about switchgrass as a bedding product for all kinds of livestock uses and thinks OurPets® use of switchgrass is an exceptional commercial and sustainable production opportunity. Per Samson, with its anti-microbial properties and clumping properties, “Switchgrass is a great product to be at the center of cat litter production.”
Switchgrass alone was not enough to take the litter to full production level. Tsengas was aware that activated charcoal had been added to litter for odor control, but the unfortunate result was a floor full of black kitty paw prints.
From his engineering background Tsengas knew that biochar, a byproduct of the pyrolysis process was both highly water absorbent and did not result in paw marking. When biochar was added, the result was a sustainably produced and biodegradable cat litter with excellent odor control and strong clumping action.
Other compelling selling points are that a 10-pound bag of the OurPets® Switchgrass and Biochar litter provides the same amount of litter box material as a 25-pound bag of conventional litter and that the litter stays in the box and not on a cat’s paws.
Tsengas’ faith in this new litter has been rewarded. The trade publication Pet Business has awarded OurPets® a 2016 Industry Recognition Award for its OurPets® Switchgrass Natural Cat with Biochar.
OurPets® sources its switchgrass in Pennsylvania. The biochar is currently sourced from Colorado wood chips harvested as part of forest management plans.
The potential benefits of switchgrass as a biofeedstock for biofuel and bioproducts are becoming better known every day. The same is true of biochar. Who would have thought cat litter would be the vehicle to introduce consumers to these two products.