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Prairie grasses are varieties of native grass that grow in the Great Plains of central North America. Due to their hardiness and high biomass production potential -- some grow as tall as 10 feet (3 meters) in height -- prairie grasses are being considered as potential feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol, biomass-to-liquids and other bioenergy technologies.
Prairie grasses could have a number of potential benefits as bioenergy feedstocks. As they are native species, growing them may require less water and fertilizer usage, and they may contribute to the maintenance of habitat and biodiversity.
Different technologies may have problems dealing with polyculture rather than monoculture feedstocks. For example, for cellulosic ethanol production, mixtures of prairie grass species may require complex mixtures of enzymes to break down the cellulose in the different plants during the ethanol production process.
Types of prairie grasses
- Path to Sustainable Bioenergy in United States Will Require a New Roadmap, 30 March 2010, by Jordan Lubetkin at NWF: "The vast potential of plant-based energy sources to create jobs, curb global warming and protect wildlife could be a reality in the United States—but not without changes in federal policies that have created an unsustainable first generation of biofuels, according to a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation."
- "The report sets out several visions for what a sustainable bioenergy future might look like, highlighting successful biomass businesses that are producing energy for schools, colleges, hospitals, and prisons using native grasses, wood waste, and even forest debris from Hurricane Rita."
- "Biomass already produces 15 times more renewable energy for the United States than wind and solar combined -- mostly from wood waste used at paper mills. It holds the promise for creating heat, electricity and fuel from a variety of sources."
- Read the full report: Growing a Green Energy Future: A Primer and Vision for Sustainable Biomass Energy (PDF)
- In Search of Wildlife-friendly Biofuels: Could Native Prairie Plants Be the Answer, 29 September 2009 by NewsWise/Michigan Technological University: "The unintended consequence of crop-based biofuels may be the loss of wildlife habitat, particularly that of the birds who call this country’s grasslands home, say researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy."
- In an article in BioScience, researchers "analyze the impacts on wildlife of the burgeoning conversion of grasslands to corn for ethanol production".
- "Most of the recent expansion in land planted to corn involves land previously used to grow other crops. But there is evidence that more and more land that had been enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is also being converted to crop production."
- "What’s the solution? There are at least two ways to produce bioenergy without destroying wildlife [and habitat], the researchers say. One is to use biomass sources that don’t require additional land, such as agricultural residues and other wastes from municipal, animal, food and forestry industries."
- "Another is to grow native perennials such as switchgrass and big bluestem. The natural diversity of prairie plants offers many benefits, including increased carbon storage in the soil, erosion control and the maintenance of insect diversity, which does double duty by providing food for birds and helping to pollinate nearby crops."
- Argonne, UChicago researchers pursue grasses as Earth-friendly biofuel, 21 July 2008 by WebWire: "While crops with high starch or sugar contents -- most notably corn grain and sugarcane -- are the focus of current bioenergy applications, botanists have also seen potential in perennial grasses."
- "As part of an effort to develop a new collection of alternative fuels," scientists from the "U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago have planted seven different combinations of native Midwestern prairie grasses [on a] 13-acre site at Fermilab’s campus" in Illinois.
- "DOE began to consider perennial forage crops as possible sources of alternative fuels during the oil crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s."
- The researchers "are seeking to determine which grasses produce high yields of harvestable biomass while also pumping the most carbon underground through root growth. When roots die and decompose, some carbon is sequestered in soil organic matter, and nutrients such as nitrogen are recycled to sustain future plant growth."
- The research is part of the DOE "Consortium for Research on Enhancing Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems" (CSiTE)."
|Elephant grass | Miscanthus | Switchgrass|
|Temperate feedstocks for bioenergy||edit|
|Corn (Bioethanol) | Jojoba (biodiesel) | Prairie grasses (Bioethanol) | Rapeseed (Biodiesel) | Soy beans (Biodiesel) | Sugar beet (Bioethanol) | Sweet potato (Bioethanol) | Sweet sorghum (Bioethanol) | Switchgrass (Bioethanol) | Wheat (Bioethanol)|
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