It has been sometime now and we have constantly come across many alternate sources or the alternate fuel, Ethanol. But till date we have not been able to actually produce the fuel on a commercial basis and that is a huge disappointment. While no one expects the technology still at research stage to produce results overnight, it cannot continue to be restricted to labs forever with no substantial commercial breakthrough. I still think that the best possible source if technologically and commercially viable, are weeds which have been tested earlier. But we have a new competitor in the ethanol race.
Scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have just staged the largest known field trial for Miscanthus, a giant perennial grass. Their results indicate that using Miscanthus as an ethanol feedstock could significantly boost biofuel production in the U.S. while greatly reducing the acreage devoted to them. One again we have very promising early results but such experiments seem to be constantly falling apart in the latter stages for reasons which are still not too clear.
According to Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences at UIUC, it would be possible to produce enough cellulosic ethanol with 9.3% of agricultural land to offset a fifth of our current gasoline consumption. By comparison, it would take 25% of current cropland to produce an equivalent amount of corn-based ethanol. Similar field trials conducted for switchgrass were disappointing. Like many perennial grasses, Miscanthus can be grown in poor quality soil and can store a lot of carbon dioxide – making it close to carbon neutral. While it will not be easy to farm wild grass, further research might provide us with a solution for our growing energy needs.