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If corn is biofuels king, tropical maize may be emperor
Date:10/16/2007

biofuels in that the starch found in corn grain and the cellulose in switchgrass, corn stover and other biofuel crops must be treated with enzymes to convert them into sugars that can be then fermented into alcohols such as ethanol.

Storing simple sugars also is more cost-effective for the plant, because it takes a lot of energy to make the complex starches, proteins, and oils present in corn grain. This energy savings per plant could result in more total energy per acre with topical maize, since it produces no grain.

"In terms of biofuel production, tropical maize could be considered the 'Sugarcane of the Midwest',"Below said. "The tropical maize we're growing here at the University of Illinois is very lush, very tall, and very full of sugar."

He added that his early trials also show that tropical maize requires much less nitrogen fertilizer than conventional corn, and that the stalks actually accumulate more sugar when less nitrogen is available. Nitrogen fertilizer is one of major costs of growing corn.

He explained that sugarcane used in Brazil to make ethanol is desirable for the same reason: it produces lots of sugar without a high requirement for nitrogen fertilizer, and this sugar can be fermented to alcohol without the middle steps required by high-starch and cellulosic crops. But sugarcane cant be grown in the Midwest.

The tall stalks of tropical maize are so full of sugar that producers growing it for biofuel production will be able to supply a raw material at least one step closer to being turned into fuel than are ears of corn.

"And growing tropical maize doesn't break the farmers' rotation. You can grow tropical maize for one year and then go back to conventional corn or soybeans in subsequent years," Below said. "Miscanthus, on the other hand, is thought to need a three-year growth cycle between initial planting and harvest and then your land is in Miscanthus. To return to planting corn or
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Contact: Marilyn Upah Bant
upahbant@uiuc.edu
217-333-9273
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert

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