8 September 2007

Native prairie plants - the best option for sustainable biomass / biofuel production?

Photo by P.D. Pratt

Article from Treehugger:
"…Researchers at the University of Northern Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) are looking at ways to use the state's mixed prairie plantings as a source of renewable energy — as biomass to produce ethanol or to burn for electricity… A study conducted this past year by David Tilman, an ecology professor at the University of Minnesota, had demonstrated the potential for polycultures of multiple grass, prairie and wildflower species to serve as an alternative to switchgrass in producing ethanol. Tilman and his colleagues found that, in addition to producing more than twice the biomass than single-species planting (not less than 238% more than switchgrass), multiple-species plantations restored biodiversity, grew on degraded land and — perhaps most importantly — could be carbon negative. Biofuels derived from this source could also store up to 51% more energy per acre than corn…"

Ok - not my field of expertise, but it immediately sounds better than corn or switchgrass mono-crops. It's also relevant here because if it were successful, it might lead to opportunities for increased awareness about native prairie plant communities, habitats & restoration (& also native prairies as models for sustainable polyculture agriculture too: see the 2nd chapter "How will we feed ourselves?" in Biomimicry - Innovation Inspired by Nature, by Janine M. Bengus, but I'm sure that's a-whole-'nother blog out there).

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