OK To Plant Alternative Source

Oklahoma is testing switchgrass to see if it’s alright as an ethanol source.

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KDFA Television in Oklahoma says researchers are preparing to plant switchgrass in the state, creating a laboratory of sorts to study the potential of the grass as a biofuels feedstock.

"Well, really it’s history in the making because this is 1,000 acres of switchgrass going in right now,” says Adam Calaway of the Noble Foundation, an Oklahoma organization promoting bioenergy across the state.

Calaway tells KDFA that "according to government research, 1 acre of switchgrass has the potential to make over 11,000 gallons of ethanol, which is far more efficient than corn. One problem with switchgrass so far, there’s not been enough research into the crop.”

Organizers tell KDFA that after one year they want to see a 30 percent crop yield, a 70 percent yield after two years, and 100 percent after three years. ‘It’s going to be a living laboratory for scientists and researchers to come down and to test methods and varietie,s and it’s also going to be an outdoor classroom and allow people to come see what 1,000 acres of switchgrass is,” saysCalaway. “This is the largest switchgrass crop in the world and researchers are hoping it will yield enough knowledge to make switchgrass, the main provider for ethanol production."

According to Todd Neeley, DTN’s ethanol guru, location is everything when it comes to grass height. “For example, in the Southeast, switchgrass varieties grow to as high as 15 feet. In the Midwest, switchgrass is limited by a shorter growing season and tends to grow much shorter in the 4- to 5-foot range,” he says. “Switchgrass height is an important factor when we talk about cellulosic-ethanol production. Taller switchgrass tends to produce more biomass per acre. There are some wild varieties of switchgrass that can grow as high as 20 feet. But to-date, little research is being done to look closely at the genetic traits of that switchgrass to find a way of genetically creating a variety that could grow taller in cooler northern climates.”

Neeley also notes that one of the arguments that anti-ethanol groups have already raised is wild grasses may be harmful to the environment because they have the potential to grow like weeds into fields where they aren’t planted.

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