Is Switchgrass a Viable Energy Crop?
Switchgrass has long been a staple crop of farmers. It is used as fodder for farm animals, fuel, and electrical needs, as a buffer strip and soil erosion control.
However, when President Bush introduced The Biofuels Initiative during his 2006 state of the nation address, he moved this native prairie grass’ use as an energy crop to the forefront.
The Biofuels Initiative is a critical part of the president’s advanced energy initiatives. It seeks to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil suppliers by more than 75% of oil imports by 2025.
The aim is to accomplish this with the use of non-food based biomass, such as agricultural waste, trees, forest residues, and perennial grasses specifically switchgrass to produce energy fuels.
When distilled switchgrass produces ethanol, an alcohol that fuels vehicles. Currently ethanol is blended at a ratio of 15 percent to 85 percent of gasoline and sold as E-85.
Switchgrass or Tall Panic Grass is a short rhizomatous plant. It is highly adaptable for it can be planted in different parts of the country of varying climate conditions. It is also drought resistant.
From planting to care and harvesting, it costs less energy to produce biofuel from switchgrass.
Switch is a perennial crop, which means it can be harvested twice a year for close to 10 years, before the crop has to be replanted. It also grows fast, absorbs the solar energy, and turns this energy into cellulose. Ethanol is extracted from the cellulose by means of distillation.
High yield per acre
Results from among 19 BFDP (Bioenergy Feedstock Development Program) research sites on both the Eastern and Central United States have shown that switchgrass can be harvested at 15 tons an acre. When distilled into ethanol, this yields 1,500 gallons of ethanol an acre. When averaged on a six-year basis, this means a yield of
115,000 of gallons of ethanol from each acre.
Results from a study undertaken by the University of California Berkeley, has found out that it takes more energy to produce gasoline than it does to produce ethanol
Expected advances in gasification technologies will yield other useful fuels: diesel fuel, methane gas, and methanol.
Switchgrass poses no danger to the soil’s fertility as it even adds organic matter.
Switchgrass has an intricate system of stems and roots. This system reaches into the deeper parts of the soil to hold on to it, stopping soil erosion.
Switchgrass are reliable buffers. Farmers plant these grasses along wetlands and steambanks to filter out pesticides and to prevent these dangerous chemicals from entering the water supply.
Switchgrass removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and puts these back in the soil. Fossil fuels, on the other hand release huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, increasing air pollution and worsening the greenhouse gas effects.
It costs less to grow switchgrass. When you add government tax incentives and grants raising switchgrass will be as profitable as extracting fossil fuels.
These are the present disadvantages of using switchgrass as the main source of biofuels.
The need to improve pretreatment technologies
Current technologies are not efficient in extracting higher yields from switchgrass. R & D efforts should correct this.
The need to allocate land for switchgrass
Is there available agricultural land to plant switchgrass?