Switchgrass is a native praire grass of the U.S. It is characterized by quick growth and its hardiness. It is a perennial grass that is tolerant of a variety of soil types and climate conditions. It can be grown in virtually every state in the U.S, see Figure 2a. It is also well adapted to weather conditions like droughts and flooding. It can be grown on marginal lands, reducting the competition between fuel and food7.
Figure 2a (shows where switchgrass can be found currently in the U.S. and Canada)
Switchgrass and Ethanol
The difference between corn and switchgrass is of what they are composed. Switchgrass is made from cellulose and lignin. Cellulose is a fiber, and is also the most abundant organic compound on the earth. It is the component of switchgrass used to make ethanol. The lignin in switchgrass is also a fiber. It can not be used to make ethanol, but, when burned, it can be used to power boilers similar to coal. Lignin does not have any of the adverse environmental effects that coal does7.
  • Naturally resistant to disease and pests, requiring low fertilizer treatments
  • Root system improves soil quality and reduces soil degradation
  • Can be hospitable habitat for wildlife like deer, wild turkeys, quail, and rabbits
  • Yields 8 tons per acre, twice the amount of corn per acre
  • 85-110% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline
  • To reach full energy potential, more land may need to be converted into agricultural land for switchgrass production
  • Currently only one plant for commercial ethanol production is open in the U.S. and it won't produce any ethanol until 2012
7Energy Future Coalition. (2007). Ethanol from Cellulose. Retrieved APril 16, 2010 from http://www.energyfuturecoalition.org/biofuels/fact_ethanol_cellulose.htm