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Can We Turn Grass Into Ethanol Fuel?

You've heard of corn as an alternative fuel but have you heard about Miscanthus?

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Photo: Martijn Nijenhuis (flickr)

The future looks bright for turning the Miscanthus plant into ethanol fuel.

You may have heard about the potential for turning grasses into ethanol fuel. Is this happening?

So first, it’s true that there’s a lot of interest in cellulosic ethanol–that is, fuel made from plants not used for food. And it’s also true that scientists have been experimenting with different grasses as potential fuel crops.

Miscanthus

But we’re not talking about the kind of grass in your average lawn. Scientists are mainly interested in tall grasses that grow quickly–like Miscanthus gianteus. It’s a large perennial grass native to Japan that grows to about thirteen feet.

Why not corn?

What’s interesting about Miscanthus is that you can grow a lot of it on a relatively small parcel of land. For example, a typical acre of corn produces around 750 gallons of ethanol. But an acre of Miscanthus produces more than 3200 gallons.

So why aren’t we using Miscanthus to make biofuel right now?

Scientists still don’t know enough about the best way to grow and harvest Miscanthus, or the most efficient way to process it into biofuel.

Some European countries burn Miscanthus alongside coal in power plants. But the bigger goal is to use Miscanthus to make liquid fuel. Right now, though, the process is too expensive.

The future

But one day, Miscanthus could be an important energy crop.  Given all the scientific attention being paid to Miscanthus, it may not be long before we’re filling our tanks with gas made from grass.

Read More: Miscanthus (bioenergy)

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