Switchgrass is the great hope for many promoting second generation biofuels. One of the proponents is professor Albert Kausch working at the University of Rhode Island (URI) . In an article on Renewable Energy Access he said
native switchgrass grown commercially today could produce ethanol for approximately $2.70/gallon — but by genetically improving a number of plant traits the production price could get as low as $1/gallon.
Switchgrass is good because it can be grown on marginal soils that wouldn’t easily support corn, and it is native to the US. Kautch has bee working on using genetically modifiying crops to increase their yeild, without that alteration being able to get into related crops. This process is called confinement.
He says switchgrass is preferable to converting corn to ethanol, because
“… some of the genes being engineered into corn to make it a better source of ethanol aren’t genes we want in the food chain. And without confinement, such as plant sterility, those genes could find their way into the corn that we eat,”
He says it would be possible to make sterile switchgrass, which is perennial, so it returns year after year :
Switchgrass is a native plant of the tall grass prairies. It grows 12 feet tall in one season and produces 10 tons of plant material an acre, more biomass per year than most other plants… I’m confident my lab can make it produce 20 tons an acre using the tools and personnel we have right now.”
Its good to see this level of commitment, but would we be better harvesting, drying in the field, burning it and generating electricity… I guess logistics and the market will decide.