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].
More Great Links
- Austin, BJ. "Dallas School Bus Runs on Vegetable Oil." National Public Radio. April 8, 2009. (Nov., 2010)http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=102863569
- Bakhsh, Nidaa. "Ensus Ramps Up Output at U.K.'s First Wheat-based Biofuel Plant." Bloomberg Businessweek. Feb., 22, 2010. (Nov., 2010)http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-02-22/ensus-ramps-up-output-at-u-k-s-first-wheat-based-biofuel-plant.html
- Barrionuevo, Ben. "It's Corn vs. Soybeans in a Biofuels Debate." The New York Times. July 13, 2006. (Nov., 2010)
- Biello, David. "Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does." Scientific American. Jan., 8, 2008. (Nov., 2010)http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=grass-makes-better-ethanol-than-corn
- Browning, Frank. "A Biofuel That's Softer on the Environment." The Burrill Report. Feb., 27, 2008. (Nov., 2010)http://www.burrillreport.com/article-a_biofuel_thats_softer_on_the_environment.html
- Brune, Michael. "Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal." Sierra Club Books. 2008.
- Burke, Adam. "Sunflower Power? An Entrepreneur's First Steps. National Public Radio. Oct., 4, 2009. (Nov., 2010)http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113222071
- Canola Council of Canada. "From Farm to Fuel: Canola is a high quality feedstock for biodiesel production." (Nov., 2010)http://www.canolacouncil.org/uploads/17016foundationrev1.pdf
- Cox, Jeff. "Surgarcane ethanol's not-so-sweet future." CNN Money. Aug., 7, 2007. (Nov., 2010)http://money.cnn.com/2007/08/06/news/economy/sugarcane_ethanol/index.htm
- Gardiner, Beth. "Palm Oil's Promotion as Diesel Alternative Draws Fire." The New York Times. June 3, 2010. (Nov. 2010)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/business/energy-environment/04iht-rbogpalm.html?_r=2
- Industrial Bioprocessing. "India looks to jatropha for biodiesel." 2006. (Dec., 2010)
- Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. "Iowa RFA Ethanol Facts." (Nov., 2010)http://www.iowarfa.org/ethanol_facts.php
- Macintyre, Ben. "Poison plant could help cure the planet." The Sunday Times. July, 28, 2007. (Nov., 2010)http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article2155351.ece
- Mongabay. "Soybean biodiesel has higher net energy benefit than corn ethanol - study, But neither can do much to meet U.S. energy demand-University of Minnesota." July, 11, 2006. (Nov., 2010)http://news.mongabay.com/2006/0711-umn.html
- National Sunflower Association. "Sunflower Oil Use in Biodiesel." (Nov., 2010)http://www.sunflowernsa.com/oil/biodiesel/
- Newman, Rick. "Corn Ethanol." U.S. News and World Report. Jan. 11, 2008. (Nov., 2010)http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2008/01/11/corn-ethanol.html
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "Biofuels from Switchgrass: Greener Energy Pastures." (Nov., 2010)http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/papers/misc/switgrs.html
- Science Daily. "Creating Corn For Cars." May 7, 2007. (Nov. 2010)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070504153451.htm
- Thomas, Isabel. "The Pros and Cons of Biomass Power." Rosen Publishing. 2008.
- Tilmann, David and Hill, Jason. "Corn Can't Solve Our Problem." The Washington Post. March, 25, 2007. (Nov., 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/23/AR2007032301625.html
- University of Connecticut. "Rapeseed and Canola Oil for Biodiesel Production." Aug, 30, 2010. (Nov., 2010)http://www.extension.org/pages/Rapeseed_and_Canola_for_Biodiesel_Production
- University of Connecticut. "Soybeans for Biodiesel Production." October 14, 2010. (Nov., 2010)http://www.extension.org/pages/Soybeans_for_Biodiesel_Production
- Walker, Niki. "Biomass Fueling Change." Crabtree Publishing. 2007.
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