Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers say use of switchgrass could solve energy woes

08.05.2006


Alternative energy solutions



Carnegie Mellon University researchers say the use of switchgrass could help break U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and curb costly transportation costs.

"Our report indicates the time is right for America to begin a transition to ethanol derived from switchgrass," said Scott Matthews, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. A 25 percent hike in gas prices at the pump since December adds to the researchers’ call for more ethanol derived from switchgrass, a perennial tall grass used as forage for livestock. Gasoline prices in the U.S. are approaching an average of $3 a gallon. The Carnegie Mellon findings were published in the May 1 issue of the American Chemical Society’s Journal "Environmental Science and Technology."


Matthews, along with W. Michael Griffin, executive director of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and William R. Morrow, a researcher in the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said using switchgrass as a supplement to corn to make ethanol would help ensure the availability of large volumes of inexpensive ethanol to fuel distributors and consumers.

"We need to be thinking about how we can make and deliver ethanol once our corn and land resources are maxed out. Switchgrass can be that next step," Griffin said.

The Carnegie Mellon report also found that ethanol derived from the dry, brown switchgrass, a cellulosic ethanol, could be made in sufficient quantities to deliver 16 percent ethanol fuel to all consumers in the U.S. Researchers said this would likely lead to significant decreases and stability in the price of gasoline.

"It’s a renewable resource," Griffin said. "Rather than taking a depletable resource from the ground, switchgrass can be grown again and again."

In a recent address, President George W. Bush made a plea for increased focus on renewable energy, mentioning switchgrass by name.

Scientists have long known how to use enzymes and microorganisms to mine the carbon from carbohydrates to make industrial products. But for decades the technology didn’t go very far commercially because fossil fuel – hydrocarbon – was a far cheaper carbon source.

Now that oil prices have climbed roughly 35 percent over the past year, cellulosic fermentation technology is becoming economical.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization said last week that biofuels may supply 25 percent of the world’s energy needs in 15 to 20 years.

"This shift from using hydrocarbons to carbohydrates could revolutionize many industries, including the nation’s huge agricultural sector," Griffin said.

While the Carnegie Mellon researchers think switchgrass can be the source of large volumes of inexpensive ethanol in the future, they are concerned about the potential costs and siting concerns of using pipelines, the most cost-effective way to deliver fuels.

The U.S. has 100,000 miles of pipelines dedicated to transporting petroleum. But Carnegie Mellon researchers say the pipelines can’t be efficiently used because impurities from the petroleum would adversely mix with the ethanol. "In the long run, our goal would be to make petroleum pipelines obsolete; which raises questions about whether ethanol pipelines should ever be built," Matthews said.

To avoid potential issues with pipelines, the authors expect regional solutions to dominate, such as widespread adoption of 85 percent ethanol delivered by rail or truck in the Midwest. American automakers already sell flexible-fuel vehicles (that can run on ethanol or gasoline) that can be purchased in the U.S.

Much of the discussions today about alternatives to gasoline, such as hydrogen, have similar issues related to infrastructure. "Unfortunately, most of the research time and money is being spent on the fuels without adequate consideration to how we will get it to consumers cost-effectively," Griffin said.

Chriss Swaney | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cmu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Machine learning helps predict worldwide plant-conservation priorities
04.12.2018 | Ohio State University

nachricht From the Arctic to the tropics: researchers present a unique database on Earth’s vegetation
20.11.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

Im Focus: Substitute for rare earth metal oxides

New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals

Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.

Im Focus: A bit of a stretch... material that thickens as it's pulled

Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.

Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...

Im Focus: The force of the vacuum

Scientists from the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) in Hamburg have shown through theoretical calculations and computer simulations that the force between electrons and lattice distortions in an atomically thin two-dimensional superconductor can be controlled with virtual photons. This could aid the development of new superconductors for energy-saving devices and many other technical applications.

The vacuum is not empty. It may sound like magic to laypeople but it has occupied physicists since the birth of quantum mechanics.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

Expert Panel on the Future of HPC in Engineering

03.12.2018 | Event News

Inaugural "Virtual World Tour" scheduled for december

28.11.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new molecular player involved in T cell activation

07.12.2018 | Life Sciences

High-temperature electronics? That's hot

07.12.2018 | Materials Sciences

Supercomputers without waste heat

07.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>