A New Energy Source Found In Switchgrass
With the scientific discoveries concerning Biomass and its possibility to solve many current and future energy problems that affect the world the question arose as to what type of organic matter should be used for this purpose. What was the most practical and cheapest that would not disturb the natural earth products as we know them today? Many different organic things were tested using trees, brush, manure and other natural products including Switchgrass.
During research experiments in the 1980's switchgrass was one of several solar energy plants tested. It was found that this particular plant yielded a high amount of substance needed to produce ethanol, electricity and fibre. As further information was studied, concerning using this plant to produce ethanol, more things were discovered.
During the dustbowl days, when many homes and properties were destroyed by blowing wind and dry soil it was discovered that planting this grass stopped erosion of the soil in many places. For the farmers in that area this was an important discovery. However, when planted in large amounts they found it did not leave room for the production of other types of agriculture. In addition, at the present time, there is not much profit in growing it as a crop.
There are many reasons given for using this plant for energy production. It's hardy, can grow in any climate, is not edible and grows rapidly. It fits in perfectly with all the needs for producing energy. It's cheap, easy to grow, and does not interfere with agriculture production for human and animal consumption.
Other advantages to switchgrass as a bioenergy addition is that, unlike other speciality crops it has very little need for pest control or fertilizer, does not require good soil and is easy to manage. This would allow it to be grown in areas of the country where growing other types of crops is virtually impossible or very expensive.
It is believed that this will be the answer to a product needed to abundantly produce ethanol once a simple method to transform it from the raw material to the finished product is developed. There is an all out effort at this point to bring this about. In addition, it is also being considered for other things connected with energy such as biogas and thermal energy.
The main problem connected with transforming this grass into the finished product is in the plant's structure. This is called lignocellulos which must be broken down into sugar and then fermented. At the current time the only way that has been found to do this is using acids and enzymes.
These products are very expensive and, until something cheaper is discovered, it will not be profitable to use switchgrass to make cellulosic ethanol or other Biomass products. Recent news reports that a number of scientific bodies are experimenting with this problem. The latest encouraging process is a combination of salt, water and acids which seem to be working to a certain extent. When an inexpensive method is developed it is expected that Switchgrass will be one of the most profitable crops to grow with maximum benefits which will eliminate the need for dependence on fossil fuels which are being depleted.