Researchers have found that it is considerably more efficient to convert biomass to electricity than to ethanol.
A small SUV powered by bioelectricity could travel nearly 14,000 highway miles on the net energy produced from an acre of switchgrass, while a comparable internal combustion vehicle could only travel about 9,000 miles on the highway.
Additionally, creating bioelectricity produces way less carbon emissions that with ethanol.
Switchgrass grows all over the US. It can survive drought, doesn’t need fertilizer or to be grown on cropland. Researchers have designed a stove for $3,000 that can burn the sticky switchgrass in pellet form, a comparable price to efficient home heating stoves that use wood pellets.
The northeast US in particular seriously needs to do heating some other way than heating oil. Switchgrass pellets are renewable and don’t require forests being logged to make wood pellets.
Spot heating oil is nearly $4.00 a gallon today (it was $1.97 in the winter of 2007.) Next winter in New England it could easily be more than that. Many will not be able to heat their homes at that price. But with switchgrass and a new stove (which would literally pay for itself in a year or so) they will be able to.
Switchgrass, of course, can also be used as a feedstock to produce ethanol. Amazing plant, isn’t it?
Switchgrass yields five times more energy than it takes to grow it and burning it in vehicles 94% less carbon dioxide than gasoline. What’s more, it grows in marginal areas and needs far less fertilizer than corn.
Right now, the price is about double than of corn ethanol but technological advances funded by venture capitalists are expected to drop the price. Let’s hope so. Then corn can be used solely for food again.
There are so many promising new ideas for creating clean energy that keeping up with them all is difficult. This is a good thing! I predict an explosion of such ideas in the coming few years, some of which will surely go mainstream, and become disruptive technologies as they create new industries.