U.S. and European mandates for subsidies of cellulosic ethanol production and use have uncertain environmental consequences according to an international group of scientists which includes researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
The 23-member group co-authored an article on the need for a science-based policy to address this global issue for the Oct. 3 issue of Science magazine. Linda Wallace, OU botany professor, and Michael Palmer, OSU botany professor, believe biodiversity in biofuels production may contribute to its long-term success.
Wallace was the first to introduce the idea of a symposium on this topic to the Ecological Society. She urged the society to address the ecological sustainability of biofuels production before more problems were created than solved. The society gave Wallace the green light in 2007 to organize a symposium on the subject.
At the second symposium held earlier this year, Wallace and Palmer co-chaired a working group on biodiversity and biofuels. Both researchers agree that multiple species contribute to the stability of a system needed to sustain an environmentally and economically viable biofuels industry.
"We know ethanol produced from corn has both environmental and economical challenges. And, we are studying the downside of the more popular switchgrass species even though funding for its use is already in place," says Wallace.
Switchgrass may not be the best species for ethanol production, but it is much better than corn which is used in many food products. However, native grasses are much more viable than the alternatives. Where feedstock production is planned, there are also species-rich native prairies. Native grassland, especially the tallgrass prairie, is highly endangered.
Palmer proposes hay meadows as an option for the production of cellulosic ethanol. "In Oklahoma, we have a century-old tradition of hay meadows where
|Contact: Jana Smith|
University of Oklahoma