|Elephant Grass Could Be Secret Weapon in Biofuel Wars|
Corn ethanol was once the undisputed darling of the biofuel industry, but the drought that withered last summer’s corn harvests down to the bone has highlighted the unsustainable tension between corn for fuel and corn for food, lending new urgency to the search for alternatives.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been egging things along with new research, and the latest contender it has tapped is elephant grass, aka napiergrass or Pennisetum purpureum, a gigantic tropical grass that was introduced to the U.S. from Africa in 1913.
Elephant Grass Biofuel and Drought
That still leaves a huge chunk of the U.S. available for biofuel crop production where water supply is generally plentiful, and one of those areas is the southern tier of the Southeast.
Napiergrass has already had ample time to prove it can thrive in the Southeast, though it has made itself a little too comfortable in Florida, where it has gained a sketchy reputation as an invasive species partly due to its proclivity for growing along the sides of canals and clogging waterways.
Napiergrass as a Sustainability Twofer
USDA research has also revealed that napiergrass can grow just as well on used poultry litter as on commercial fertilizer, so acres of cultivated napiergrass could also serve as a way to manage the waste disposal chain from poultry farms.
A Race Against Time for Biofuel
The legislators propose tweaking the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is administered by the EPA, to divert less corn for biofuel production. However, without making allowances for non-food biofuel crops, relaxing the Renewable Fuel Standard would deal a big blow to the biofuel industry just as new biofuel technologies for converting grasses and woody, non-food crops are breaking through to commercial success.
The massive new POET Project Liberty cellulosic biofuel plant in Iowa provides one well-known example of this transition, so it’s no surprise that POET has joined with a coalition of biofuel trade associations to launch a campaign to keep the Renewable Fuel Standard as-is.
The campaign, called FuelsAmerica, points out that the Renewable Fuel Standard already provides for contingencies such as a harvest-wrecking drought, enabling refiners to lower their production of corn ethanol in the short term while keeping the standard intact for the long run.
Source: GO MEDIA: Written by TINA CASEY - Image: Pennisetum purpureum, Forest & Kim Starr via wikimedia.org.