I love stories about new biomass possibilities for ethanol production. If an ethanol story has got a watermelon or poplar tree in the lede, then I'm ready to learn more. When I heard this story on carbon negative ethanol production using switchgrass on NPR yesterday, I made sure to pay attention.
NPR's Chris Joyce was following up on a report in the journal Science that found test plots of switchgrass that mixed some of 16 types of prairie grasses (like turkey foot, blazing star, lupine, and prairie clover) together "produced the most biomass and produced more potential energy than corn and soybeans."

One of the best reasons for switching to switchgrass is that it grows so well without much human work. As University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman told NPR's Joyce, "They grow with almost no input. We don't apply any pesticides. We don't need to use fertilizer. We don't irrigate them. They grow on nutrient poor soils and they are very efficient at converting the resources we do give them into energy."

Of course, it's still more difficult/expensive to turn this switchgrass into biofuel than the heavily subsidized and studied corn and soybean crops many producers use today. This status quo will not last, and when the change comes, switchgrass will be there to fuel the last of the flexible fuel SUVs.

[Source: Christopher Joyce / NPR]

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