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Power Science

Switchgrass Makes Better Ethanol Than Corn 560

statemachine writes to mention that the USDA and farmers took part in a 5-year study of switchgrass, a grass native to North America. The study found that switchgrass ethanol can deliver around 540 percent of the energy used to produce it, as opposed to corn ethanol which can only yield around 24 percent. "But even a native prairie grass needs a helping hand from scientists and farmers to deliver the yields necessary to help ethanol become a viable alternative to petroleum-derived gasoline, Vogel argues. 'To really maximize their yield potential, you need to provide nitrogen fertilization,' he says, as well as improved breeding techniques and genetic strains. 'Low input systems are just not going to be able to get the energy per acre needed to provide feed, fuel and fiber.'"
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Switchgrass Makes Better Ethanol Than Corn

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  • by SirBruce ( 679714 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:38PM (#22006686) Homepage
    So let me get this straight... when President Bush championed swithgrass in his State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, and the news folks sorta laughed at him, he was actually right?
  • Energy Used (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:41PM (#22006742)
    Technically speaking, the poster/article should say 'human-provided' energy. After, if switchgrass took in X amount of energy and produced 540% of X in output, that would break the laws of thermodynamics.

    Also of consideration is what is the energy yield per acre? Of course, corn at 24% would be a total loser ($1 of energy provides $.24 of energy), but even at 540%, switch grass might not be the most economical method based on land used. Consider if you supply an acre of switch grass with 1 watt of power and it produces 5.4 watts - that's definitely not worth it.
  • by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:59PM (#22007056)
    Actually, a major reason why high fructose corn syrup is the sweetener of choice for many American food products is that the U.S. sugar lobby is so strong. Protectionist trade agreements and price floors ensure that Americans pay about double the average world price for sugar, so it's far less expensive to use HFCS than cane sugar.
  • by Discordantus ( 654486 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @07:00PM (#22007090)
    At most alternative grocery stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, etc) you can buy roasted hemp nuts, which are a similar food to shelled sunflower seeds. Hemp seeds have high protein and fat content, so you can use hemp oil in places you would use, say, olive oil; and with all the protein in them, they can be used to make many of the things that we currently use soybeans for.
  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @07:09PM (#22007208) Homepage Journal
    The seeds do, when you are allowed to grow a decent amount of it.
  • by steve_thatguy ( 690298 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @07:17PM (#22007318)
    I got into a conversation about alternative energies over the holidays with a friend of mine who has her PhD in something Agricultural Science related from Purdue, and when the conversation went to ethanol she informed me that apparently there's a much better alternative in butanol. According to the first link I've provided, Butanol is both a "cleaner" fuel source than ethanol and has a higher energy content (110,000 Btu per gallon for butanol vs. 84,000 Btu per gallon for ethanol, for reference gasoline is 115,000 Btu per gallon). It requires little to no modification of existing engines and can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines. Historically it's been considered less viable than ethanol because of relatively higher production cost.

    About Butanol Energy [renewablee...access.com]

    However a researcher from the midwest (Ohio I think) has patented a process by which it can be produced more cheaply than ethanol *without having to change existing gasoline infrastructure.*

    Here's the researcher's company.

    More Butanol Information [butanol.com]

    From what my friend told me, the only thing preventing this right now is a lack of funding and public awareness. So please read it for yourself and spread the word.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @08:17PM (#22008096)

    So let me get this straight... when President Bush championed swithgrass in his State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, and the news folks sorta laughed at him, he was actually right?

    And Bush's speech spurred on some investing:

    What Happened to Bush Call for Switchgrass?
    by Jessica Yellin, Katie Hinman, Nitya Venkataraman
    Date: January 23, 2007
    URL: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=2814511&page=1 [go.com]

    "Since that mention in the 2006, investment in switch grass has exploded, thanks in large part, experts say, to the president's speech. Venture capitalists have poured over $100 million dollars into private companies that are exploring the technology necessary to convert switch grass into fuel, and large, publicly-owned companies are also directing their research dollars into bio fuels."

  • by smick ( 568734 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @08:24PM (#22008222) Journal
    Growing corn gets you fuel, OR food. Farms aren't going to use the same crop to produce fuel and food-- they'll produce one or the other.

    It actually get you fuel AND cow food. The waste product from the ethanol can be used as feed.
  • by foqn1bo ( 519064 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @09:01PM (#22008704)
    Because it's not the corn farmers doing the lobbying, it's the industrial food corporations. Corn subsidies remove the price floor for corn, so that overfarming drives prices down below the cost of production without causing the market to implode. Conagra, Cargill and Tyson buy up the cheap corn and use it to manufacture the ubiquitous processed foods we find in the supermarket, and feed it to cows and chickens (who are not evolutionarily adapted to it) in concentrated feedlots so that we can have the hyper-abundance of diseased meat we've grown accustomed to.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday January 11, 2008 @10:11PM (#22009372) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but we're most likely talking about decades here.

    For example, if you cut the price of bio/petro diesel in half relative to gasoline, I could easily see 50% of the vehicles on the road being diesel within 5 years.

    A diesel-electric hybrid would be capable of some scary efficiency and low emissions. Most pollution from diesels are from them operating out of their ideal powerband.

    It's easy to design a diesel engine optimized for a constant RPM and load that'll last halfway to forever that gets high efficiencies. The electric motor can provide temporary boosts when you need more power.
  • separate sewage (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joseph_Daniel_Zukige ( 807773 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @01:14AM (#22011048) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, in the States, triclosan and stuff would be a concern.

    Here in Japan, there are two separate sewage paths in most of the country, for soft sewage (sinks, shower, etc., mixes with the storm sewer outside (deep gutters!), and for hard sewage, i. e., the flush toilet. Some places have non-flush toilets, or have light-flush toilets, that drop into septic tanks, generally under the house. One house my wife and I looked at once in Kakogawa had a partial treatment plant on the septic tank -- stirred the sewage regularly to speed up the conversion. With the tanks, you'd have to have the septic truck come around every so often, and put a big vacuum house down the outside access and take it away.

    Anyway, most Japanese people are very sensitive to sewage issues and don't wash industrial waste down either path. (Part of the reason is that there are often rice fields that use the storm sewers for irrigation in many neighborhoods, even in the cities, so it's easy to remember that what you wash down the drain could come back to haunt you.) Lake Biwa (which I really want to go see sometime) turned red some thirty years ago because of stuff in detergents, and citizens groups formed to push the detergent companies to make and sell bio-friendly detergents at reasonable prices, and to encourage the avoidance of the bad stuff. By the time they made laws, conformance was mostly not an issue any more.

    Not everywhere in Japan has had such success with the environment, but there is a difference between Japan and the US. People don't tend to use old engine oil to kill ants and weeds here, either.

    But, yeah, these are the sorts of problems that might have to be worked out to make common effluent useable for fuel crops.
  • by MrCopilot ( 871878 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:02AM (#22012006) Homepage Journal
    So, crop rotation?

    Nope Switchgrass is not plowed every year, it is mowed, sometimes twice annually. Replanted every 10 tears. Requires little fertilizer, if any.

  • Anything but Corn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Seahawker101 ( 643662 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:30AM (#22012138)
    We should try and find something other than corn as a new fuel source and this is a good step towards that. If America were to have a crisis, like what happened in Ireland with the potato famine, we would be up shit creek without a paddle. We rely too much on corn based products as it is, becoming dependent on corn for fuel would be just as bad as how we rely on oil now.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.