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Old 12-09-2007, 01:59 AM   #1
Mr. Wyndham
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Switchgrass Ethanol (Cellulosic Ethanol)

I thought it might be a nice brain-excercise, so I surfed howstuffworks.com for a while yesterday. Eventually I ran across this - which was exactly what I've been looking for for a while.

Grassoline

Some nice quotes:

"A fast-growing grass known as switchgrass can be found around the United States, Canada, Central and South America, and parts of Africa."

"Switchgrass is a native perennial species to the Americas. It grows quickly and easily on plains. It's a tough, hardy species -- in some cases, it's considered invasive. A three-year study in North Dakota published in 2005 showed that, when left alone, some varieties of the grass can produce an average yield of more than seven tons of biomass -- the harvested plant material -- per acre, depending on precipitation and soil type. The grass is also resistant to drought and requires little, if any, fertilizer. This means that it requires less fossil fuel expended on production."

"Even better, lignin -- a byproduct created when water is eliminated from cellulose -- has shown promise for use as a fuel to power ethanol production plants. If lignin can be harnessed, this could make ethanol processing self-sustaining."

"...Researcher Michael Wang calculated the energy ratio for switchgrass. He found that every one unit of energy put into cellulosic ethanol production from switchgrass created 10 times the energy output. This is much higher than ethanol derived from corn. By contrast, gasoline has an energy ratio of 1 to 0.81, which means it requires more energy to produce than it yields."

"In 2006, plant geneticist Albert Kausch said that with current cultivation and production methods, the cost per gallon of cellulosic ethanol would be $2.70. That's still cheaper than gasoline, but Kausch believes it could be brought down to around $1 per gallon [source: Newswise]. One of the ways to achieve this dramatic cost reduction is to develop cheaper enzymes and find a single enzyme that can both break down cellulose and ferment ethanol."

"Competition is tight between corn and switchgrass over which will serve as the feedstock for future ethanol production...But while ethanol made from the two crops is similar in many respects, the process by which switchgrass is turned into fuel makes it the superior choice for many researchers, politicians and activists. Corn ethanol production, for example, uses only the grain (the stuff you eat) to produce ethanol. The rest is cast off -- although, ironically, the crop residue can be used in cellulosic ethanol production."

Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a replacement for Oil...but it's promising to be a big chunk of that. There are concerns that the US doesn't have enough land to grow enough grass to make enough ethanol to replace oil. Okay, so don't replace it, take advantage of Fuel Cells, and plug-ins. Then import some Ethanol from Canada, and the rest of the Americas - as opposed to the volitile Middle east.

Just my take on the topic, but I thought it could be an interesting read for some on the boards.
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Old 12-09-2007, 03:27 AM   #2
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Sounds good to me. I've always had mixed thoughts about ethanol. But using cellulose is great. I remember a while ago hearing that there is research into how termites break down cellulose to make the process of making fuel more efficient. But using things like switchgrass and cornstalks is a great source of fuel stock.
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Old 12-09-2007, 05:03 AM   #3
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They're saying using corn ethanol will screw up the food supply, but then we find stuff like this. This is encouraging. I think bio-fuels are a great part of our future.
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Old 12-09-2007, 12:06 PM   #4
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^I could see that happening. A lot of farmers are going out of business because the environment hasn't worked with them...they lose crops which equal the loss of money, can't pay bills and end up losing the farm. I'm sure a lot are insured for that. But, there are others who might make only so much for farming certain foods (id veggies, pumpkins, watermelons, etc). Depending on supply and demand, people might end up needing/waning more E85 derived from corn. Now, if you make a certain low income on harvesting veggies but someone offeres you twice as much for corn, what would you do? That could effect our food supply.

Mexico is already cutting out a lot of their agave plant fields (the blue agave is used for making tequila). They are replacing the agave plant for corn. The only reason is because they make more cash w/ the corn fields. You might think thats off since tequila is somewhat costly (depending on brand) and should yield a good return. It does. But, it also takes 8 to 12 years for a blue agave plant to become ripe for harvest. That IS a long time. Now, the tequila supply is going to go down resulting in the rising cost of tequila at your local bars and liquor shops.
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