While Iowa remains the nation’s leading ethanol producer, researchers are finding products other than corn may make a better bio-fuel. Dick Perrin, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska, says cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass shows promise — in terms of pollution and in terms of cost.
Perrin says ethanol made from switchgrass may become competitive with corn-based ethanol. He says the fuel made from switchgrass can be delivered for about 80-cents a gallon, versus a $1.25 a gallon for ethanol made from corn. The study found that ethanol made from switchgrass produces 540% more energy than is consumed to make it.
In addition, he says switchgrass-based ethanol brings a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases. He says the switchgrass was just grown with few chemicals in a grass pasture and harvested just like hay. Perrin says compared to gasoline, the fossil fuel greenhouse gases from producing switchgrass ethanol were reduced by about 90%.
Perrin says this information is good news for farmers looking for economically viable crops and for the country to become more independent in terms of fuel. He says the new federal fuels standards will require some 20-billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be in the system within about 15 years, creating a much greater demand for this type of fuel. The study was conducted over the past eight years on farms in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Farmers were paid for their work and in return, recorded all costs of producing switchgrass biomass start-to-finish, including machinery, labor, materials and land rent. Land rent, Perrin says, is the single highest cost item in the equation.