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Study shows new porimise in biofuel produced from switchgrass

CTBR Staff Writer Published 28 February 2018

A recent study conducted by a research team from the Colorado State University (CSU) has found that switchgrass, a non-edible grass native to North America has a potential combat global warming.

The study titled, “High resolution techno-ecological modeling of a bioenergy landscape to identify climate mitigation opportunities in cellulosic ethanol production” was recently published online in Nature Energy.

Scientists claim to have used modelling to simulate several growing scenarios for switchgrass and found that it has a climate footprint that ranges between -11 to 10 grams of carbon dioxide per mega-joule, the standard way of measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

In comparison with other fuels, especially gasoline, the impact is 94grams of carbon dioxide per mega-joule.

CSU Natural Resource Ecology Lab research scientist John Field said: “What we saw with switchgrass is that you’re actually storing carbon in the soil. “You’re building up organic matter and sequestering carbon.”

The CSU research team works on second-generation cellulosic biofuels derived from non-edible plant material including grasses. These grasses, including switchgrass, are found to be more productive as crops and can grow with less environmental footprint than corn.

Field said: “They don’t require a lot of fertilizer or irrigation.

"Farmers don’t have to plow up the field every year to plant new crops, and they’re good for a decade or longer.”

The research team chose a study site in Kansas, as the state has a cellulosic biofuel production plant, one of only three in the US.

The team used an ecosystem modeling tool named DayCent, that can track the carbon cycle, plant growth and how the growth responds to changes in weather, climate and other factors at a local scale.

Developed at the University in 1990s, the tool allows scientists to predict whether crop production contributes to or helps in fighting climate change.

Studies conducted earlier on cellulosic biofuels have focused more on the engineering aspects of the supply chain. Some of the details included the analysis of the distance between the farms and the biofuel production plant to which the plant material must be transported.

However, CSU finds that the details about where and how the plants are grown is just as important or perhaps even more important for the greenhouse gas footprint of the fuel, Field said.