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Switchgrass

Forget corn. The heck with soybeans. Don't even mention palm oil. If anyone wants to take a look at the wonder plant that has the potential to reduce the world's appetite for oil and save the planet from global warming, drive through the Great Plains and look out the window. What you will see is grass -- switchgrass.

Unlike corn, using the cellulose in switchgrass to make ethanol requires less energy from fossil fuels. Furthermore, cellulose ethanol contains more energy than corn ethanol, so there's a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although there are no great switchgrass plantations or farms, scientists are currently working on various methods to make switchgrass the energy of the future. For example, researchers at Auburn University in Alabama grew test plots of switchgrass that produced 15 tons of biomass per acre. The scientists say that each acre can also produce 1,150 gallons of ethanol each year [source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory].

When farmers begin growing switchgrass as an energy crop, they will use less fertilizer, pesticides and water. The neat thing about switchgrass is that as a perennial, farmers only have to plant it once. Scientists say switchgrass provides five times as much energy as it takes to grow, and it grows on marginal land not used for farming. Therefore, farmers are not taking cropland away from food production [source: Biello].

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