‘Grass O'line’: The Fuel Of The Future?
Reported November 2011
BOULDER, CO. (Ivanhoe Newswire)--Scientists are studying all kinds of ways to create new sources of energy. Now, the U.S Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy have granted researchers more than 10 million dollars to study bioenergy crops, one of those could be grass-o-line.
They've tried coal, corn, and even manure, but scientists are still looking for an ideal renewable energy source. Now, scientists at Colorado State University are studying switch grass as a potential bioenergy crop.
"You can chop them down, take the biomass away. Then, they grow back again," Jan Leach a plant pathologist at Colorado State University told Ivanhoe.
Switch grass is a good candidate for fuel because it is perennial, meaning it grows year after year without having to be replanted. Unlike corn, switch grass isn't a food source. Plus, it requires very little land and water to grow.
"The less you input, which ultimately adds up to less energy you put into growing it, the more net energy you get back out when you harvest,” Dan Bush, Ph.D., a plant biologist Colorado State University told Ivanhoe.
Scientists want to make the switch grass plants bigger, so they can produce more energy per crop. To do that, they're studying the genetic makeup of rice.
"We have cultivated and worked with rice for thousands of years. We know a lot about rice, so what we can do is translate that information to a related species…switch grass like rice is a grass. It looks a lot like rice,” Leach said.
Scientists already know how to manipulate rice genes. Now, they want to do the same with switch grass –use its genes to make bigger plants.
"Larger plants are going to have more cell wall, the energy that we're going to convert to fuels,” John McKay, Ph.D., an agricultural scientist at Colorado State University told Ivanhoe.
Most of the energy lies in the cell walls of the stems and leaves. So, researchers want to use all the above ground parts of the grass to make fuel. With corn, the bulk of the energy harvested comes from the seeds which don’t offer as much useable fuel.
"The bottom line is we can get 10 times more starting energy by harvesting the vegetative tissue than by focusing on only harvesting the seed,” Dr. Bush said.
One study found switch grass ethanol delivers 540 percent of the energy used to produce it.
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