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Grasses have potential as alternate ethanol crop, Illinois study finds
Date:11/1/2010

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Money may not grow on trees, but energy could grow in grass. Researchers at the University of Illinois have completed the first extensive geographic yield and economic analysis of potential bioenergy grass crops in the Midwestern United States.

Demand for biofuels is increasing as Americans seek to expand renewable energy sources and mitigate the effects of fluctuating energy prices. Corn ethanol is the main biofuel on the market, but demand for ethanol competes with corn's availability as a food, and rising ethanol consumption could lead to higher food costs.

In recognition of this problem, federal regulations mandate that 79 billion liters of biofuels must be produced annually from non-corn biomass by 2022. Large grasses, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, could provide biomass with the added benefits of better nitrogen fixation and carbon capture, higher ethanol volumes per acre and lower water requirements than corn.

"It's a better way to achieve our goals of energy security and climate change mitigation," said Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at U. of I. "These two particular crops are among the more promising nonfood crops currently available for large-scale production."

Switchgrass is large prairie grass native to the Midwest, and Miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, is already widely cultivated in Europe as a biofuel crop.

The Illinois team wanted to determine whether biofuel grasses could be viable cash crops in the U.S. and to explore how this viability varies by location.

"This is the first study to look at both the agricultural potential and socioeconomic costs of grass crop production," said atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain. "We came to the conclusion that in order to study the potential to grow these grasses in this region, we have to have an integrated assessment study of socioeconomics and biophysical aspects."

The team published
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Contact: Liz Ahlberg
eahlberg@illinois.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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