Study Highlights Prairie Grass' Potential as Biomass Fuel SourceStudy Highlights Prairie Grass' Potential as Biomass Fuel Source

Switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced 540 percent more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol, according to estimates from a large on-farm study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Results from the five-year study involving fields on farms in three states highlight the prairie grass' potential as a biomass fuel source that yields significantly more energy than is consumed in production and conversion into cellulosic ethanol, said Ken Vogel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service geneticist in UNL's agronomy and horticulture department.

The study involved switchgrass fields on farms in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is the largest study to date examining the net energy output, greenhouse gas emissions, biomass yields, agricultural inputs and estimated cellulosic ethanol production from switchgrass grown and managed for biomass fuel.

"This clearly demonstrates that switchgrass is not only energy efficient, but can be used in a renewable biofuel economy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance rural economies," Vogel said.

The joint USDA-ARS and Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources study also found that greenhouse gas emissions from cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass were 94 percent lower than estimated greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline production.

Researchers reported their findings in the Jan.7-11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research paper is available online at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0704767105v1.

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