Skip to main content

Element concentrations in urban grass cuttings from roadside verges in the face of energy recovery


Grass from municipal roadside verges is a potential yet largely unused resource for bioenergy recovery, which is mainly due to its unknown elemental composition. Therefore, we measured the concentration of 16 elements (Ca, K, Mg, N, Na, P, S, Al, Cd, Cl, Cr, Cu, Mn, Pb, Si and Zn) in a material from the city of Kassel harvested in different management intensities. The element concentrations were mainly close to reference values of agricultural or nature conservation grassland and usually within the range of literature data. Concentrations of most elements, including heavy metals, were below limiting values. Only N and Cl concentrations in the raw material exceeded the limiting values for combustion, but washing and dewatering of the biomass with the “integrated generation of solid fuel and biogas from biomass” technique resulted in concentrations in the press cake well below the limiting values. Considering the element concentrations of grass from urban roadside verges, utilisation for energy recovery may be possible, provided an appropriate technology is applied.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3



Dry matter


Fresh matter


Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry


Integrated generation of solid fuel and biogas from biomass


Mass flow


Press fluid


Press cake


Relative reduction


Volatile solids


  • Alfani A, Bartoli G, Rutigliano FA, Maisto G, Virzo de Santo A (1996) Trace metal biomonitoring in the soil and the leaves of quercus ilex in the urban area of Naples. Biol Trace Res 51:117–131

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brackhage C, Schaller J, Bäucker E, Dudel EG (2013) Silicon availability affects the stoichiometry and content of calcium and micro nutrients in the leaves of common reed. Silicon 5(3):199–204. doi:10.1007/s12633-013-9145-3

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bryson GM, Barker AV (2002) Sodium accumulation in soils and plants along Massachusetts roadsides. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 33(1–2):67–78. doi:10.1081/CSS-120002378

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Bühle L, Hensgen F, Donnison I, Heinsoo K, Wachendorf M (2012) Life cycle assessment of the integrated generation of solid fuel and biogas from biomass (IFBB) in comparison to different energy recovery, animal-based and non-refining management systems. Bioresour Technol 111:230–239

  • Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz (2012) Verordnung über das Inverkehrbringen von Düngemitteln, Bodenhilfsstoffen, Kultursubstraten und Pflanzenhilfsmitteln. Düngemittelverordnung - DüMV

  • Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit (2012) Verordnung über die Verwertung von Bioabfällen auf landwirtschaftlich, forstwirtschaftlich und gärtnerisch genutzten Böden. Bioabfallverordnung - BioAbfV

  • Chen Y, Cheng JJ, Creamer KS (2008) Inhibition of anaerobic digestion process: a review. Bioresour Technol 99(10):4044–4064. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2007.01.057

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • de Moor S, Velghe F, Wierinck I, Michels E, Ryckaert B, de Vocht A, Verbeke W, Meers E (2013) Feasibility of grass co-digestion in an agricultural digester, influence on process parameters and residue composition. Bioresour Technol 150:187–194. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2013.10.011

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • de Nicola F, Murena F, Costagliola MA, Alfani A, Baldantoni D, Prati MV, Sessa L, Spagnuolo V, Giordano S (2013) A multi-approach monitoring of particulate matter, metals and PAHs in an urban street canyon. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20(7):4969–4979. doi:10.1007/s11356-012-1456-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Delafield M (2006) A practical trial to investigate the fesibility of wide-scale collection of cuttings from roadside verges in Powys, for use in biogas and compost production. Living Highways Project.

  • Deutscher Wetterdienst (2014) Ausgabe der Klimadaten: Monatswerte.

  • DIN Deutsches Institut für Normung e. V. (2012) Feste Biobrennstoffe – Brennstoffspezifikationen und -klassen – Teil 6: Nicht-holzartige Pellets für nichtindustrielle Verwendung; Deutsche Fassung (EN 14961–6:2012)

  • El-Nashaar H, Griffith S, Steiner J, Banowetz G (2009) Mineral concentration in selected native temperate grasses with potential use as biofuel feedstock. Bioresour Technol 100(14):3526–3531. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2009.02.051

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Fumagalli A, Faggion B, Ronchini M, Terzaghi G, Lanfranchi M, Chirico N, Cherchi L (2010) Platinum, palladium, and rhodium deposition to the Prunus laurus cerasus leaf surface as an indicator of the vehicular traffic pollution in the city of Varese area. Environ Sci Pollut Res 17(3):665–673. doi:10.1007/s11356-009-0166-9

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Garcia R, Millán E (1998) Assessment of Cd, Pb and Zn contamination in roadside soils and grasses from Gipuzkoa (Spain). Chemosphere 37(8):1615–1625. doi:10.1016/S0045-6535(98)00152-0

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hartmann H (2009) Grundlagen der thermo-chemischen Umwandlung biogener Festbrennstoffe, Brennstoffzusammensetzung und -eigenschaften. In: Kaltschmitt M (ed) Energie aus Biomasse: Grundlagen, Techniken und Verfahren, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York, NY

  • Heckman J, Kluchinski D (1996) Chemical composition of municipal leaf waste and hand-collected urban leaf litter. J Environ Qual 25(4):930. doi:10.2134/jeq1996.00472425002500040048x

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Helmreich B, Hilliges R, Schriewer A, Horn H (2010) Runoff pollutants of a highly trafficked urban road—correlation analysis and seasonal influences. Chemosphere 80(9):991–997. doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.05.037

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hensgen F, Richter F, Wachendorf M (2011) Integrated generation of solid fuel and biogas from green cut material from landscape conservation and private households. Bioresour Technol 102(22):10441–10450. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2011.08.119

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hensgen F, Bühle L, Donnison I, Frasier M, Vale J, Corton J, Heinsoo K, Melts I, Wachendorf M (2012) Mineral concentrations in solid fuels from European semi-natural grasslands after hydrothermal conditioning and subsequent mechanical dehydration. Bioresour Technol 118:332–342

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hidaka T, Arai S, Okamoto S, Uchida T (2013) Anaerobic co-digestion of sewage sludge with shredded grass from public green spaces. Bioresour Technol 130:667–672. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2012.12.068

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Iannucci A, Russo M, Arena L, Di Fonzo N, Martiniello P (2002) Water deficit effects on osmotic adjustment and solute accumulation in leaves of annual clovers. Eur J Agron 16(2):111–122. doi:10.1016/S1161-0301(01)00121-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kabata-Pendias A (2011) Trace elements in soils and plants, 4th edn. CRC Press, Boca Raton

    Google Scholar 

  • King C, McEniry J, O’Kiely P, Richardson M (2012) The effects of hydrothermal conditioning, detergent and mechanical pressing on the isolation of the fibre-rich press-cake fraction from a range of grass silages. Biomass Bioenergy 42:179–188. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2012.03.009

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Li F, Kang L, Gao X, Hua W, Yang F, Hei W (2007) Traffic-related heavy metal accumulation in soils and plants in northwest China. Soil Sediment Contam: An Int J 16(5):473–484. doi:10.1080/15320380701490168

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Littell RC, Milliken GA, Stroup WW, Wolfinger RD, Schabenberger O (2006) SAS for mixed models, 2nd edn. SAS, Cary

    Google Scholar 

  • Massadeh AM, Jaradat QM, Momani KA, Saleem MA (2009) Distribution of heavy metals in some tree leaves along the main road in an agricultural area. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 40(7–8):1254–1267. doi:10.1080/00103620902754622

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Modlingerová V, Száková J, Sysalová J, Tlustoš P (2012) The effect of intensive traffic on soil and vegetation risk element contents as affected by the distance from a highway. Plant Soil Environ 58(8):379–384

    Google Scholar 

  • Mudhoo A, Kumar S (2013) Effects of heavy metals as stress factors on anaerobic digestion processes and biogas production from biomass. Int J Environ Sci Technol 10(6):1383–1398. doi:10.1007/s13762-012-0167-y

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Obernberger I, Supancic K (2009) Possibilities of ash utilisation from biomass combustion plants. In: ETA-Renewable Energies (ed) Proceedings of the 17th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition

  • Obernberger I, Brunner T, Barnthaler G (2006) Chemical properties of solid biofuels—significance and impact. Biomass Bioenergy 30(11):973–982. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2006.06.011

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Prochnow A, Heiermann M, Plöchl M, Amon T, Hobbs P (2009a) Bioenergy from permanent grassland—a review: 2. Combust Bioresour Technol 100(21):4945–4954. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2009.05.069

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Prochnow A, Heiermann M, Plöchl M, Linke B, Idler C, Amon T, Hobbs P (2009b) Bioenergy from permanent grassland—a review: 1. Biogas Bioresour Technol 100(21):4931–4944. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2009.05.070

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • R Core Team (2013) R: a language and environment. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna

  • Raciti SM, Groffman PM, Fahey TJ (2008) Nitrogen retention in urban lawns and forests. Ecol Appl 18(7):1615–1626

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • SAS Institue (2015) SAS/STAT(R) 9.2 User’s guide, LSMEANS statement 2nd edn. Accessed 23 Feb 2015

  • Scheffer F, Schachtschabel P, Blume H (2010) Lehrbuch der Bodenkunde, 16th edn. Spektrum Lehrbuch. Spektrum, Akad. Verl, Heidelberg, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Scholwin F, Liebetrau J, Edelmann W (2009) Biogaserzeugung und –nutzung, Grundlagen. In: Kaltschmitt M (ed) Energie aus Biomasse: Grundlagen, Techniken und Verfahren, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York, NY

  • Seling S, Fischer P (2003) Schadstoffbelastung von Strassenbegleitgrün. I. Gehalte des Mähguts an Schwermetallen (Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb, Pt, Zn). Müll und Abfall 6:289–293

    Google Scholar 

  • The Commission of the European communities (2014) Waste framework directive, end-of-waste criteria. Accessed 20 Jun 2014

  • The Commission of the European communities (19th 2006) Commision Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs

  • Tonn B, Dengler V, Thumm U, Piepho H, Claupein W (2011) Influence of leaching on the chemical composition of grassland biomass for combustion. Grass Forage Sci 66(4):464–473. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2494.2011.00804.x

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • van Ranst E, Verloo M, Demeyer A, Pauwels JM (1999) Manual for the soil chemistry and fertility laboratory. Ghent University, Faculty Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences

  • Wachendorf M, Richter F, Fricke T, Graß R, Neff R (2009) Utilization of semi-natural grassland through integrated generation of solid fuel and biogas from biomass. I. Effects of hydrothermal conditioning and mechanical dehydration on mass flows of organic and mineral plant compounds, and nutrient balances. Grass Forage Sci 64(2):132–143

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Werkenthin M, Kluge B, Wessolek G (2014) Metals in European roadside soils and soil solution—a review. Environ Pollut 189:98–110. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2014.02.025

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Yläranta T (1994) Effect of road traffic on heavy metal concentrations of plants. Agric Sci Finl 4:35–48

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank the EU for financing the COMBINE project (No. 299J) through the Interreg IV B regional development fund and Christine Wachendorf, who advised us in soil analysis. We are grateful to the administration of the city of Kassel, who provided the investigation areas, as well as data for this publication.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Meike Piepenschneider.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Piepenschneider, M., De Moor, S., Hensgen, F. et al. Element concentrations in urban grass cuttings from roadside verges in the face of energy recovery. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22, 7808–7820 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Bioenergy
  • IFBB
  • Roadside verge
  • Urban biomass
  • Contamination
  • Trace elements