Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions

Date:
July 12, 2011
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the US would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, researchers report in a new study. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

University of Illinois plant biology and Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) professor Evan DeLucia, EBI feedstock analyst Sarah Davis and their colleagues found that replacing the least productive corn acres with miscanthus would boost both corn and biofuel production.
Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Growing perennial grasses on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the U.S. would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, researchers report in a new study. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Related Articles


The study used a computer model of plant growth and soil chemistry to compare the ecological effects of growing corn (Zea mays L.); miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus), a sterile hybrid grass used in bioenergy production in Western Europe; and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), which is native to the U.S.

The analysis found that switching 30 percent of the least productive corn acres to miscanthus offered the most ecological advantages.

"If cellulosic feedstocks (such as miscanthus) were planted on cropland that is currently used for ethanol production in the U.S., we could achieve more ethanol (plus 82 percent) and grain for food (plus 4 percent), while reducing nitrogen leaching (minus 15 to 22 percent) and greenhouse gas emissions (minus 29 percent to 473 percent)," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

"Globally, agriculture contributes about 14 percent of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming to the atmosphere," said University of Illinois plant biology and Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) professor Evan DeLucia, who led the study with EBI feedstock analyst Sarah Davis. "The whole Midwest has been, since the advent of modern agriculture, a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."

"According to our model, just by making this replacement you convert that whole area from a source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere to a sink for greenhouse gases from the atmosphere," DeLucia said.

Miscanthus grows in thick stands up to 13 feet tall in test plots in Illinois. It does well on marginal land without being fertilized, so using it as a biofuel feedstock instead of corn would eliminate a major source of air and water pollution, Davis said. Nitrous oxide, a byproduct of the fertilizers used on cornfields, "is actually a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide," she said.

"Both switchgrass and miscanthus are perennial grasses, which means that you don't have to till every year, you don't have to plant every year, so there's much less soil disturbance happening than with corn," Davis said. "And because the root system remains in place year after year, there's more carbon going into the soil."

Several hurdles remain before the transition from corn to cellulosic ethanol production can occur on a commercial scale, the researchers said. Converting the sugars in corn to ethanol is easier than releasing the energy locked in plant stems and leaves.

Currently, one commercial-scale lignocellulose biorefinery is under construction in the U.S. -- in Florida, the researchers said, and other facilities are in the planning stages. More research must be done to increase the efficiency of the process, the researchers said.

"We know that these grasses are enormously productive; we know the agronomy works; we know the ecology works," DeLucia said. "So the next step is to break down the economic barriers by making an efficient conversion chain from lignocellulosics to ethanol."

DeLucia said most scientists in the field expect this to be achieved within a decade.

DeLucia is an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. The BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute funded this study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sarah C Davis, William J Parton, Stephen J Del Grosso, Cindy Keough, Ernest Marx, Paul R Adler, Evan H DeLucia. Impact of second-generation biofuel agriculture on greenhouse-gas emissions in the corn-growing regions of the US. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2011; 110706144507005 DOI: 10.1890/110003

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110712102326.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2011, July 12). Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110712102326.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Switch from corn to grass would raise ethanol output, cut emissions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110712102326.htm (accessed November 1, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

World's Salamanders At Risk From Flesh-Eating Fungus

Newsy (Oct. 31, 2014) The import of salamanders around the globe is thought to be contributing to the spread of a deadly fungus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Controversial French Dam Halted After Death of Protester

Controversial French Dam Halted After Death of Protester

AFP (Oct. 31, 2014) Local French authorities Friday decided to suspend work on a controversial dam after the death last week of an activist protesting against the project that sparked uproar in the country. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Hawaii Lava Inches Closer

Raw: Hawaii Lava Inches Closer

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) Aerial video shows the path lava has carved across a portion of Hawaii's big island, threatening homes in the town of Pahoa. Officials say the flow was just over 230 yards from a roadway Thursday morning. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins