Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grass Gas

Reading all the headlines about farmers racing to plant more corn for ethanol and the prices of these commodity crops rising makes me shake my head and feel more than a bit depressed. The race to alternative fuels as it is currently headed will just fuel more monoculture and more environmental issues. Monsanto's stock is going up, however. A lot.

This approach, other than the projections on the need for nitrogen-based fertilizer and GMO grass seed (when will we learn) makes a whole lot more sense:
"Cost competitive, energy responsible cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass or from forestry waste like sawdust and wood chips requires a more complex refining process but it's worth the investment," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the Range Fuels facility groundbreaking in November. "Cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases than ethanol made from corn."
Indeed, while corn ethanol only outputs 25 percent more energy than required to make it, switchgrass ethanol produces 540 percent more energy than the input required. Better still, the land required to grow these native plants can be of marginal quality, and the grasses support the local biodiversity. The article continues:
"In fact, Vogel and his team report this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that switchgrass will store enough carbon in its relatively permanent root system to offset 94 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted both to cultivate it and from the derived ethanol burned by vehicles."
Clearly there is a better way than corn, why aren't we pursuing it? Oh yeah, ask Monsanto.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi,

My name is Lauren and I work with the BBC World Service on the programme, World Have Your Say. Today we are doing a show on food, asking the question, should we create healthy food even though it is usually more expensive or create cheap, usually unhealthy food to feed hungry people all over the world. If you have an opinion on the matter, we would love to hear from you. Please email me at lin.liu@bbc.co.uk with your number. The show will be on at 6 pm London time.

Thanks,
Lauren