Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions

Jul 12, 2011
Experimental plots in Urbana, Illinois, include corn, switchgrass and miscanthus in side-by-side trials. Credit: Andrew Leakey

Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the U.S. would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, researchers report in a new study. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

The study used a computer model of plant growth and to compare the ecological effects of growing (Zea mays L.); miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), a sterile hybrid grass used in bioenergy production in Western Europe; and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), which is native to the U.S.

The analysis found that switching 30 percent of the least productive corn acres to miscanthus offered the most ecological advantages.

"If cellulosic feedstocks (such as miscanthus) were planted on cropland that is currently used for ethanol production in the U.S., we could achieve more ethanol (plus 82 percent) and grain for food (plus 4 percent), while reducing nitrogen leaching (minus 15 to 22 percent) and (minus 29 percent to 473 percent)," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

"Globally, agriculture contributes about 14 percent of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming to the atmosphere," said University of Illinois plant biology and Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) professor Evan DeLucia, who led the study with EBI feedstock analyst Sarah Davis. "The whole Midwest has been, since the advent of modern agriculture, a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."

"According to our model, just by making this replacement you convert that whole area from a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to a sink for from the atmosphere," DeLucia said.

Miscanthus grows in thick stands up to 13 feet tall in test plots in Illinois. It does well on without being fertilized, so using it as a biofuel feedstock instead of corn would eliminate a major source of air and water pollution, Davis said. Nitrous oxide, a byproduct of the fertilizers used on cornfields, "is actually a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide," she said.

"Both switchgrass and miscanthus are perennial grasses, which means that you don't have to till every year, you don't have to plant every year, so there's much less soil disturbance happening than with corn," Davis said. "And because the root system remains in place year after year, there's more carbon going into the soil."

Several hurdles remain before the transition from corn to cellulosic can occur on a commercial scale, the researchers said. Converting the sugars in corn to ethanol is easier than releasing the energy locked in plant stems and leaves.

Currently, one commercial-scale lignocellulose biorefinery is under construction in the U.S. – in Florida, the researchers said, and other facilities are in the planning stages. More research must be done to increase the efficiency of the process, the researchers said.

"We know that these grasses are enormously productive; we know the agronomy works; we know the ecology works," DeLucia said. "So the next step is to break down the economic barriers by making an efficient conversion chain from lignocellulosics to ethanol."

DeLucia said most scientists in the field expect this to be achieved within a decade.

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User comments : 19

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omatumr
1.7 / 5 (24) Jul 12, 2011
Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the U.S. would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, . . .


This has absolutely nothing to do with science or the threat of CO2-induced global warming [Or the 1974 global climate danger of "Another Ice Age"]:

www.time.com/time...,00.html

This is part of a 40-year plan to use global climate
change as "our common enemy" in propaganda to:

a.) Unite nations,
b.) End nationalism, and the threat of mutual
c.) Destruction in a full scale nuclear exchange.

I endorse those noble goals, but not the misuse of science as a propaganda tool to establish a one-world, tyrannical government like George Orwell described in the book, "1984."

www.online-litera...ll/1984/

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
SteveL
3 / 5 (4) Jul 12, 2011
"propaganda tool to establish a one-world, tyrannical government like George Orwell described in the book, "1984.""

A book that was strongly influenced by "WE" by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Government is Mother. Government is Father. All hail the Great Benefactor.
SteveL
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 12, 2011
Back on topic. If the science is accurate (not politically motivated) then we should follow where the truth leads us.
krundoloss
1.7 / 5 (13) Jul 12, 2011
Back in the 20th Century, if you had an invention or an idea, you just DID IT. Now in the 21st, no matter how good your idea or invention is, it has to be economically viable, and it has to be able to be mass produced, and the materials have to be available in large quantities. Doesnt anyone just DO anything anymore. Just grow the dam Grass and stop growing corn because the Grass is better. Too much talk, not enough action in America these days!
Husky
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2011
they need to come up with genetically crippled grass with weaker cellulose
Scottingham
2.9 / 5 (7) Jul 12, 2011
There's a joke somewhere in here about hemp...
omatumr
1.2 / 5 (17) Jul 12, 2011
Back on topic. If the science is accurate (not politically motivated) then we should follow where the truth leads us.


Thanks, SteveL. We agree.

The violently unstable nature of Earth's heat source - the Sun's core - was revealed in this recently released video of a massive solar eruption.

"We'd never seen anything like it," says Alex Young, a solar physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Half of the sun appeared to be blowing itself to bits."

http://science.na...reworks/

That recording and other experimental data [1] falsifies both the cherished scientific fable of a Hydrogen-filled Sun (SSM) and politician's favorite fable of CO2-induced global warming.

1. "Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011):

http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1


FrankHerbert
1 / 5 (54) Jul 12, 2011
Sugar cane is about as efficient as a plant gets at photosynthesis, making it the best candidate for ethanol production. Brazil knows this very well. If we we're willing to trade with Cuba we could get a great deal of sugar cane from them.
Twin
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 12, 2011
Plant the grass; graze buffalo; droppings improve the soil; sell the meat; buy real gasoline.
Twin
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 12, 2011
I knew that 1 was coming
SteveL
4.7 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2011
Sugar cane is about as efficient as a plant gets at photosynthesis, making it the best candidate for ethanol production. Brazil knows this very well. If we we're willing to trade with Cuba we could get a great deal of sugar cane from them.

And it would help their impoverished economy. If only our American government would realize that our neighbor, who may think differently than we do politically, does not have to be our enemy. I prefer a policy of influence through directed cooperation compared to a policy of interference and violence. And common - they are our neighbors after all. Sometimes politicians act like spoiled 2-year olds.

And yes, I apologize to the 2-year olds for the comparison. It was unfair.
Howhot
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 12, 2011
This is part of a 40-year plan to use global climate
change as "our common enemy" in propaganda


Oh please, get a life. Here is what you believe; pure BS.
Get a life Omar.
eachus
1 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2011
This is one of those "if only" stories. If only it was easy to convert cellulose to ethanol it would be wonderful.

Other people are doing the actual work. The problem is that the enzymes and bacteria cultures used to produce ethanol are very sensitive to the initial feedstock. AFAIK the plant referred to in the story will be using bagasse (waste) from sugar cane processing. No reason not to do that, and the raw material is cheap, but sugar cane doesn't grow in the midwest...

Will someone come up with an economical processing chain for Miscanthus? I don't know. I do know that several groups are working on switchgrass as a feedstock.
Sanescience
1 / 5 (8) Jul 13, 2011
Some GM grass combined with some GM yeast that produces near pour ready bio-diesel. That will happen as soon as the energy companies lock up the patents against "generic" fuel production. Heh.
mikiwud
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 13, 2011
I knew that 1 was coming

Twin, warmists have no sence of humour!
I gave you "5".
If you were serious I would still give you a 5.
Here come my "1's".
omatumr
1.7 / 5 (18) Jul 13, 2011
This is part of a 40-year plan to use global climate
change as "our common enemy" in propaganda


Oh please, get a life. Here is what you believe; pure BS.
Get a life Omar.


Whether or not you know it, the very SOVEREIGNTY of the United States constitutional from of government is currently at stake in budget negotiations in Washington, DC.

Citizens of Greece and other formerly SOVEREIGN governments found it necessary to borrow funds from the World Bank after traveling this path.

That is where the United States is headed, while our formerly great scientific talents are being poured into pseudoscientific projects like this one.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Deesky
4 / 5 (8) Jul 13, 2011
That is where the United States is headed, while our formerly great scientific talents are being poured into pseudoscientific projects like this one.

And you'd know about pseudoscience. Aren't you an expert in that field?
ted208
1.6 / 5 (15) Jul 13, 2011
Corn ethanol is a Cluster f***k of the fist magnitude.

Hey remember the warmist on this very blog cheering the Corn ethanol as the savior of mankind??

What has it achieved?

Ski high food prices, 3rd world starvation and riots, higher CO2 content to produce and burn it, and lower miles/gallon efficacy.

Just like Solar and Wind power an expensive and useless waste of money! that needs coal, oil or gas backup generation.

The green madness has gone on far to long ans destroyed any faith in real and honest scientist who really do have contributions to making the environment and life better for every living creature!!!!!.
Sin_Amos
not rated yet Jul 18, 2011
"Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo"---gives no weight to anything you say. That was your first problem in your contention. Secondly, who gives an F-about global warming, when you consider the poison being pumped into us like guinea pigs because of corporations greed-striken turpitude. How many biological abnormalities, diseases, and maladies come from the production and use of fossil fuels. Get with it. The scheme is that you are too stupid to care.