Carnegie Mellon Researchers Say Solution to America's Energy Crisis Could be Found Down on the Farm
By: Chriss Swaney
Carnegie Mellon University researchers say the use of switchgrass, a perennial tall grass used as forage for livestock, 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 since December that's driven average U.S. gas prices to nearly $3 a gallon adds to the researchers' call for more ethanol derived from switchgrass. The Carnegie Mellon findings were published in the May 1 issue of the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology journal.
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 the cellulosic ethanol derived from the dry, brown switchgrass 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."
Griffin’s study has support from the White House. President George W. Bush has made a plea for increased focus on renewable energy, mentioning switchgrass by name.(Continued …)