Thursday, November 04, 2010

US Biomass Potential from Grass Crops Looking Good

Researchers from the University of Illinois have looked at the economic potential for grass crops in the US midwestern region. Brian Westenhaus has more:
Switchgrass is large prairie grass native to the Midwest; miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, is widely cultivated in Europe as a biofuel crop. Others such as sweet sorghum could be competitive and the waterborne organisms such as algae also could get competitive. But right now the grasses have the mass potential.

The UI 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.

...The researchers found that, in general, the yield is very high for miscanthus – up to three times higher than switchgrass in the Midwest. Even through switchgrass is native to the region; it doesn’t grow well in higher latitudes like Minnesota or Wisconsin because it has poor tolerance for cold temperatures. For both grasses, yield varies considerably throughout the Midwest, generally lower in the north and much higher in the south.

Heads up – most notably, for the southernmost counties – much of southern Illinois and nearly all of Missouri – the model predicts greater production of grasses than of current corn and soy crops. This could be a key factor in farmers’ decisions to cultivate biofuel crops. Should the model hold with some real world applications the energy zone using the large grasses is getting the early boundaries. _NewEnergyandFuel
This is just the beginning of the back and forth between scientific and economic studies of biomass crops and real world experimentation and scaling up of biomass crops.

Biomass can be converted to fuels, chemicals, plastics, and directly to electric power. It is only a question of finding the most economical ways of growing and processing this biomass. Real world experience will both cooperate with and battle against academic studies in the search for the best way of producing and using biomass.



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