E-grass may be valuable fuel source
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E-grass may be valuable fuel source

A hybrid grass native to Asia is referred to as elephant grass or E-grass may be a valuable renewable fuel source for the future.

india Updated: Sep 29, 2005 13:08 IST

A hybrid grass native to Asia and sometimes referred to as elephant grass or E-grass may be a valuable renewable fuel source for the future, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Illinois studied Miscanthus, a relative of sugarcane that can grow 13 feet high from an underground stem-like organ called rhizome, and found it a very efficient fuel, the science portal EurekAlert reported.

Miscanthus yields in low land areas around the Alps where the climate is similar to the Midwest, are at least 25 tonnes per acre dry weight, said researcher Emily A. Heaton and her colleagues in a paper.

The grass drops its slender leaves in the winter, leaving behind tall bamboo-like stems that can be harvested in early spring and burned for fuel.

Burning Miscanthus produces only as much carbon dioxide as it removes from the air as it grows, said Heaton, who is seeking a doctorate in crop sciences.

That balance means there is no net effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which is not the case with fossil fuels, she said.

Miscanthus also is a very efficient fuel, because the energy ratio of input to output is less than 0.2, Heaton said. In contrast, the ratios exceed 0.8 for ethanol and biodiesel from canola, which are other plant-derived energy sources.

Besides being a clean, efficient and renewable fuel source, Miscanthus is remarkably easy to grow.

Upon reaching maturity, Miscanthus has few needs as it outgrows weeds, requires little water and minimal fertilizer and thrives in untilled fields.

Using a computer simulator, Heaton predicted that if just 10 percent of Illinois land mass was devoted to Miscanthus, it could provide 50 percent of Illinois electricity needs.

Using Miscanthus for energy would not necessarily reduce energy costs in the short term, Heaton said, but there would be significant savings in carbon dioxide production.

Researchers will now study whether Miscanthus could be converted to alcohol, which could be used as fuel.

First Published: Sep 29, 2005 13:08 IST