Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Switchgrass for Ethanol

While corn and sugarcane have been the primary sources for ethanol production, there are emerging other potential crops on the horizon that could possibly supplant those two in the future. Two of the most promising are switchgrass and algae.

I planted a stand of switchgrass in 1988 on a CRP farm that I still own. We’ve got a wonderful picture of one of my sons, James, sitting on my shoulders in that field with the heads of the switchgrass up to my shoulders. That stand of switchgrass is still going strong, constantly reseeding itself without any involvement on my part.

A team of researchers from the Agricultural Research Station in Lincoln, NE published a five year study of the economics of producing ethanol from switchgrass. They contracted with ten farmers in NE, ND and SD, who averaged $60/ton. However, two of the farmers, who had previous experience with the crop, were able to drop their costs to $39/ton.

The conclusion of this study was that at $50/ton and a conversion efficiency of 80 to 90 gallons per ton, the farm cost of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass would be about $0.55 to $0.62 per gallon.

The researchers also pointed out that they anticipated vast improvements in cultivars, agronomics, production technology and productivity as more farmers began producing the crop. They noted, “As an indicator of the improvement potential, switchgrass biomass yields in recent yield trials in NE, SD and ND were 50% greater than achieved in this study.”

I’m convinced that there are going to be new technologies and entrepreneurs that are going to emerge because of our current energy crisis. Some of the best companies sprout when the times are most difficult.


Anonymous said...

Cute kid, as cute as his dad

Anonymous said...

I think switchgrass and algae are decent ideas, but I think that corn ethanol is clearly the best way to go for the majority of our resources for a long time. We have millions of acres of corn -- why not take advantage of it?

Anonymous said...

We've already seen rising food prices and food shortages, at least partially caused by using food for fuel.

BoomtownUSA said...

I think that one of the major beauties of switchgrass, algae and other possible alternative sources of ethanol is that it can be harvested from land that would not be used for food production.