Corn ethanol is currently the main biofuel on the U.S. market, but demand for ethanol competes with corn’s availability as a food, with potentially disastrous consequences for food costs. Researchers at the University of Illinois are investigating a different source for homegrown biofuel: grasses.
This study–the first of its kind, according to the university–examined the potential for the cultivation of two biofuels grasses in the American Midwest: switchgrass, a large prairie grass native to the region, and Miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, which is widely cultivated in Europe as a biofuel crop.
The study found that Miscanthus outperformed its native competitor with yields nearly three times greater. In breaking out Miscanthus as a cash crop, the study further found that the regions where such a grass biofuel might yield enough, per acre, to convince farmers to switch from crops like soybeans, were located largely in the southern range of the Midwest, such as southern Illinois and all of Missouri.
The takeaway? Biofuel grasses could be a viable crop in the U.S. – under certain conditions. The complete study was published in the October issue of the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy.
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