An energy industry fueled by an environmental problem – a Winnipeg researcher is tapping in to the power of cattails. The researcher said harvesting them to help heal a lake has created a new type of fuel.

“What we're doing is creating a market for that material that otherwise would be mowed or left in the ditches,” said Richard Grosshans, senior researcher with International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Ground up cattails offer a new source of renewable energy.

The emerging market has caught the eye of some Manitoba companies.

“Why would we spend our dollars bringing in energy from other provinces or other places in the world? It's just a matter of harnessing it and developing it,” said Stephane Gauthier who works with one those companies - Biovalco.

That's exactly what several Manitoba groups are doing - working together to create a unique brand of biomass.

That cattail kind is already being tested at Providence University in Otterburne, Man. Biomass heats 80 per cent of campus.

“We decided about five years ago that we wanted to take the next big step in being a sustainable campus,” said Bruce Duggan with Providence University.

The self-contained system allowed classes to continue uninterrupted following a nearby gas line explosion last year.

“If we hadn't had biomass we would have had to shut down for two or three weeks,” said Duggan.

The choice also helps sustain an ecosystem.

For years, scientists have warned of Lake Winnipeg's declining health due to an overabundance of phosphorus - a substance cattails are especially good at absorbing.

“That phosphorus and other stuff they're absorbing - we're harvesting it and removing it from the environment,” said Grosshans.

Developers see a future in the fuel source.

Especially since 2017 marks the start of a Manitoba ban on space-heating with coal.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development is also involved in processing cattails harvested in Manitoba to clean drinking water.