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Biofuels researcher searches for new sources

s are researching.

"If we use grass and straw, you can find the stock everywhere," Chen said. "It is widely available in many regions of the country, rather than being limited to the Corn Belt, and it has the potential to have higher production in Montana."

The United States is facing increasing energy challenges. President Bush's proposal for additional clean-energy research in his State of the Union Address acknowledged the need for extensive research in biofuel, and the U.S. Department of Energy announced this month an ambitious research agenda for developing cellulosic ethanol. The Department of Energy called it in a news release "a renewable, cleaner-burning, and carbon-neutral alternative to gasoline" and "an economically viable transportation fuel."

"Montana farms produce 10 million tons of wheat and barley straw that are typically left in the field. An additional five million tons of hay are produced annually," said Dave Wichman, superintendent of the Central Ag Research Center "The advantage of using annual farm crops for ethanol production is that farmers can produce biomass with conventional crops and equipment, and can alternate crop production for energy, food or feed," he added.

In areas with irrigation and enough heat, a double-cropping system with winter cereals and warm season grasses like winter triticale and sweet sorghum, can be adopted.

"The biomass production increases by as much as 50 percent using this system compared to a single-cropping system," Chen explained. "Even perennial grasses like switchgrass might be grown on marginal lands or lands retired from the Conservation Reserve Program."

Chen is working with scientists at the Biological Engineering Department of North Carolina State University to screen chemicals and enzymes that pretreat and convert biomass into sugars.

"Biomass energy can contribute to cleaner air through reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It can alsoimp
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Source:Montana State University


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