Biofuels, like politics, are local

Feb 13, 2009

Field work and computer simulations in Michigan and Wisconsin are helping biofuels researchers understand the basics of getting home-grown energy from the field to consumers. Preliminary results presented today suggest that incorporating native, perennial plants during biofuels production reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, improves water quality and enhances biodiversity. The results are part of an experimental effort to make biofuels economically and environmentally sustainable.

"If we can make biofuels sustainable in the Great Lakes region, then we can apply the same methods to make biofuel industries work in other regions," said Cesar Izaurralde of the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Md. a collaboration between the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. and the University of Maryland.

Biofuels based on the food crop corn have come under criticism in recent years for contributing to high food prices and not reducing greenhouse gases enough. Now, researchers of the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center are looking beyond food crops to be used as biofuel feedstocks. These "cellulosic biofuels" being studied include a range of herbaceous and woody species, including native prairie grasses.

How well these other biofuels will perform against greenhouse gas accumulation depends on the feedstock, how they're grown, how the plant is converted to useful liquids, and where the industry is based. Something as simple as whether the crop needs to be planted every year or takes root can contribute to whether it's an advantage over fossil fuels.

At the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, scientists are investigating which biofuels crops are best suited to take advantage of the conditions unique to that region -- for example, which grow best in the soils and with the amount of water the region has available. An economic concern is that they do not interfere with the production of food crops.

"One of the objectives of the center is to develop ecological, agricultural, and life cycle practices that are economically viable and environmentally responsive for the production of biofuel crops," said Izaurralde.

Izaurralde presented an overview of the program, which is in its early stages, today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. For example, he and his colleagues are using computer models to explore regional production of biofuels in Michigan and Wisconsin. The computer simulations include weather and soil information, and many other production and economic factors. The researchers expect to find ways to deploy biofuel cropping systems that are profitable and environmentally sustainable.

Provided by University of Maryland

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mongol Empire rode wave of mild climate, says study

Mar 10, 2014

Researchers studying the rings of ancient trees in mountainous central Mongolia think they may have gotten at the mystery of how small bands of nomadic Mongol horsemen united to conquer much of the world ...

Why some fish can't go with the flow

Mar 07, 2014

Have you ever been snorkelling or scuba diving on a windy day when there are lots of waves? Did you notice how much that flow of water against your body affected your ability to swim and control your movements ...

Getting hyperspectral image data down to a sprint

Mar 04, 2014

Materials of similar appearance can be unambiguously identified by the respective color spectrum. Hyperspectral cameras deliver the requisite spectral data. A new software product can process these vast amounts ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

5 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.