Corngrass, a little-known variation of the typical towering cornstalk, might hold the key to fast, cheap, eco-friendly ways to squeeze more ethanol from tomorrow’s biofuel crops.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists at the ARS-University of California-Berkeley Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, CA, are investigating corngrass traits that might be moved into other plants to make them stand-out biofuel crops.
For example, corngrass has tender, youthful leaves that contain less lignin, a component of plant cell walls, than does the tougher foliage of conventional corn plants.
That’s a plus for corngrass, because the lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose in cell walls present stumbling blocks for efficiently producing what’s known as cellulosic ethanol. These cell wall components aren’t easily degraded into the fermentable sugars from which ethanol is made.
Now a plant molecular biologist with the ARS Western Regional Research Center, also in Albany, plans to shuttle the corngrass gene into switchgrass, the prairie grass regarded as one of America’s most promising bioenergy crops, to determine if the corngrass gene can boost switchgrass’ value as a biofuel source.