Native Prairie Plant Bio-based Fuel alternative to Petroleum better than Corn based Ethanol

Native Prairie Plant Bio-based Fuel alternative to Petroleum better than Corn based Ethanol

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A study from the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences found that a mixture of native perennial grasses and other flowering plants are a better source of energy per acre compared to corn grain ethanol or soybean biodiesel. David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology led the study and was first reported in the December 8th issue of Science as a cover story.

"Biofuels made from high-diversity mixtures of prairie plants can reduce global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even when grown on infertile soils, they can provide a substantial portion of global energy needs, and leave fertile land for food production," Tilman said.

Tilman along with his colleagues estimate that using prairie grasses and other flowering plants would produce 238 percent more bioenergy on average compared to single prairie plant species. The also estimate that fuel made from the prairie plants would make 51 percent more energy per acre compared with the ethanol made from corn grown on fertile land. The prairie plants do not need a lot to grow and the whole plant is able to be used for making fuel.

Prairie plants also would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They are considered “carbon negative” because the plants store more carbon than would be released by the equipment and factories that would be needed to convert them to biofuels. The researchers estimate that using prairie plants would remove 1.2 to 1.8 U.S. tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year. Corn and Soybean fuel sources however are “carbon positive” and contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Mixed prairie grasses could replace 13 percent of the global petroleum supply, if it were to be planted on all of the world’s degraded land reports the researchers. It could also replace 19 percent of the global electricity consumption.

The researchers also mention other benefits for planting renewable energy in degraded land. It can help provide a reliable production of energy. The soil could become fertile again. The ground and surface water would be cleaner. It would also help preservation of wildlife habitats and possibly develop new recreational locations.

At this time there are 30 million acres of grasslands in the US Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). This program currently pays farmers to manage the land for purpose to maintain the environment. The researchers report that the regulations of the CRP program will not allow for prairie grasses to be grown on the land for the purpose of renewable energy. The US Farm Bill would need to be changed to address this possible new energy source.

"It is time to take biofuels seriously," Tilman said. "We need to accelerate our work on biomass production and its conversion into useful energy sources. Ultimately, this means we need to start paying farmers for all the services they provide society -- for biofuels and for the removal and storage of carbon dioxide."

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By Dusty Rhodes
Best Syndication Science Staff Writer

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