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Switch Grass: The Future is Closing

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On: Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 3:11PM | By: Benjamin Roussey

Switch Grass: The Future is Closing

The debate pertaining to alternative fuel sources for our automobiles has caused a rift in this nation. One side claims electrical, the other side charges back with natural gas, for instance. Both sides have merits but neither of them have the attributes of switch grass. Switch grass? Yes, switch grass. Researchers at Oklahoma State University have discovered 4 types of grasses could be used to power a vehicle – bermudagrass, flaccidgrass, weeping lovegrass, and switchgrass – switchgrass has had the best results, based on efficiency in regards to dry biomass per dollar cost. In other words, switch grass is the most economical and plausible. Thus, science has centered its intention on switch grass.

Some of you may shake your heads and wonder if switch grass can be produced to mass scale to offer an alternative to king oil? The U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture conducted a study and determined that 20 million U.S. hectares or 49.4 million U.S. acres of cropland, cropland pasture, and even idle cropland could grow switch grass. Then this switch grass would be harvested to result in biomass which will be utilized as biofuel feedstock.

For this to become a financial reality, and for a significant amount of biomass to be produced, nitrogen fertilizer will be an absolutely necessary component. The Oklahoma researchers have been knee deep in this research while scrutinizing these variables. A significant aspect is that if an economically feasible process for transforming switch grass into biofuels is uncovered, millions of acres of land will be up for play to enable this revolutionary idea to become a reality. And since switch grass grows naturally, it can actually grow in regions that have seen its land depleted of nutrients because of centuries of use. For instance, Alabama’s soil is pretty shabby because of perennial and incessant cotton growth.

America may be the Saudi Arabia of coal and oil shale, but we share this attribute with switch grass as well. The Great Plains naturally grows switch grass. Eons ago, switch grass covered the landscape that stretched beyond any eye could see. This all was radically changed as the steam engine and the steel plow made their way into our culture. Because of these human events, switch grass is not really visible now since beans and corns have become the salient crop. But America grows enough food; we need to find another way to power our cars. Producing fuel for our own cars could keep tens of billions of dollars in our economy and produced thousands of high paying jobs. Fuel for our cars would be spectacular enough, but switch grass chemically manipulated into a biofuel could also provide chemicals to American companies and help rotate power turbines for instance.

Students at Auburn University have produced close to 15 tons of dry biomass in an acre. Over a 5-year period, average yields have been around 11.5 tons – which is about 1,150 gallons of ethanol per year from each acre. Another positive mark to this entire scenario is that there is not any waste since what is left over from the switch grass that cannot be converted into ethanol can be used for electricity. This is where billions of dollars should be invested in, not a massive bureaucratic health care bill. Our priorities are not straight but it is good some inroads are being made to offer a tremendous solution for the next phase of automobile fuel, much to the chagrin of our Saudi allies.


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