How to Convert Switchgrass to Ethanol

"Biofuels such as ethanol are compounds derived from plants that can be used to fuel internal-combustion engines such as those in cars and small machinery. Creating these fuels from plants can reduce the environmental and political problems caused by a reliance on oil. Although much ethanol production, especially in the United States, comes from corn, switchgrass is a promising alternative. It is a North American native grass that can grow on marginal land without the extensive inputs that corn or sugar cane require, and it produces a much better energy yield. Making ethanol from switchgrass, though, is a challenging process."

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Grassoline: Can we fuel cars with grass?

"Research into sources for biological fuels -- biofuels -- has included everything from chicken fat to wood chips. But processing most of them yields a low net energy ratio -- the amount of energy each unit puts out isn't much more than the energy put into its production. Cost has also been a problem: Techniques for extracting fuels from plant and animal resources are currently expensive, which would be reflected at the fuel pump. But the more researchers crunch the numbers on switchgrass, the more it looks like a good candidate for an alternative fuel source."

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Biodiesel one slick solution, but more to come

"Teams of undergraduate students huddled quietly around the gray metal desks in the teaching labs at Harvard’s Science Center. Each group was creating a calorimeter out of a used soda can and scavenged Styrofoam cups to determine the energy density and efficiency of the biodiesel they had extracted the week before from waste fryer oil provided by Annenberg Dining Hall."

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