Press release

IISD Celebrates World Wetlands Day by Highlighting how to use Manitoba Cattail to Clean Drinking Water and Provide Heating

February 1, 2015


WINNIPEG—February 2, 2015— Did you know that today (Feb 2) is World Wetlands Day?

Did you also know that cattail harvested right from our very own Manitoba wetlands can be used to clean drinking water, provide heat and improve agricultural soils?

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is recognizing wetlands today by releasing a paper on research into using the common wetland plant, cattail, to create solid fuel, as well as a substance called biochar. Biochar has an exciting range of potential uses, from cleaning drinking water, to providing heat and improving agricultural soils. It is similar to coal without being a fossil fuel.

The drinking water research is led by Dr. Joe Ackerman, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Manitoba. Ackerman ran water through cattail biochar and found it helped to control odour and improve colour. He believes cattail biochar has the potential to perform as well or better than current commercial products.

“This has the potential to be a high-end bioproduct. You can burn the cattail to produce heat energy, and at the same time get biochar,” said Ackerman. Biochar is being studied for water treatment in British Columbia, and activated carbon is already used in Brita water filters.

This research also indicates that cattail biochar can be considered a high-quality and low-carbon source of heating. Furthermore, the addition of biochar or ash to soil improves soil quality by adding carbon, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are important for plant growth and crop health.

IISD Senior Research Scientist, Richard Grosshans, says that “cattail has an amazing natural ability to absorb toxins and nutrients from our environment. IISD’s research has shown that by harvesting this plant, we can capture and remove phosphorus, the element causing issues in Lake Winnipeg, and use the harvested plant material as a solid fuel for heating, as well as high value bioproducts such as liquid fuels and biochar.”

IISD has been involved for nearly a decade in researching innovative uses for cattail, including different forms of bioenergy (solid fuel, gas and liquid) and floating wetlands.

For more information please contact Sumeep Bath, IISD media and communications officer, at or +1 (204) 958 7740.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.