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Biofuel produced from switchgrass found to have low carbon footprint

EBR Staff Writer Published 28 February 2018

A new study conducted by the researchers from Colorado State University (CSU) in the US has found that biofuel produced from switchgrass, a non-edible native grass, could have a low carbon footprint.

The study, “High resolution techno-ecological modeling of a bioenergy landscape to identify climate mitigation opportunities in cellulosic ethanol production,” took place at a cellulosic biofuel production plant in Kansas.

As part of the study, a team of scientists have simulated various growing scenarios and found that switchgrass has a climate footprint ranging from -11 to 10 grams of CO2 per mega-joule, which is the standard way of measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

In comparison, the use of gasoline has resulted in 94 grams of carbon dioxide per mega-joule.

Colorado State University Natural Resource Ecology Lab research scientist John Field said: “What we saw with switchgrass is that you're actually storing carbon in the soil.

“You're building up organic matter and sequestering carbon.”

The team used DayCent, an ecosystem-modeling tool, which is designed to track the carbon cycle, plant growth, and growth responses to weather, climate and other factors at a local scale.

Using the tool, the scientists predicted whether crop production contributes to or helps combat climate change. The tool also allows to know how feasible it is to produce certain crops in a given location.

The study focused on assessing second-generation cellulosic biofuels made from non-edible plant material such as switchgrass.

At a given location, switchgrass has potential to be more productive as crops and can be grown with less environmental footprint compared to the other biofuel source, corn.

Field said: “Biofuels have some capabilities that other renewable energy sources like wind and solar power just don’t have.

“If and when the price of oil gets higher, we'll see continued interest and research in biofuels, including the construction of new facilities.”