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. Wild Grass Could Hold Key To Clean Fuels Of The Future

"Critics say President Bush's ethanol production goals are unrealistic because it would mean finding an additional 129,000 square miles of farmland -- about the size of Kansas and Iowa combined -- to plant enough corn to meet the demand. However, Chris Somerville, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University, said Miscanthus-derived ethanol, which is distilled from the fermentation of sugars from the entire plant rather than just the grains, results in a higher yield per unit of land. Miscanthus produces about twice as much biomass per acre without irrigation as other grasses, and reaching Bush's target of 35 billion gallons of biofuels annually would require far fewer acres of land."
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) Feb 20, 2007
A wild grass found in Asia and Africa could hold the key to dreams of providing an alternative to fossil fuels blamed for global warming, experts said Friday. Miscanthus, a perennial grass native to subtropical and tropical regions of Africa and southern Asia, was the ideal plant for producing ethanol at a lower cost than corn, currently the most widespread source of the fuel.

The grass, which is used as an ornamental plant in the United States, had produced yields between five and 10 times greater than corn, experts said.

"To make a pound of alfalfa or spinach requires about 600 pounds of water, while to grow a pound of Miscanthus requires only about 200 pounds of water," said Chris Somerville, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University.

Somerville was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting, where climate change and sustainable development are two of the key themes.

Somerville said Miscanthus could help meet ethanol production targets set out last month by President George W. Bush, who wants to reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil.

Bush wants the United States to increase production of biofuels to 35 billion gallons (133 billion liters) a year by 2017, roughly seven times the present levels of five billion gallons a year, produced by corn-ethanol refineries.

Somerville said Bush's targets were substantial without "providing any insights into what he is going to do to make that happen."

Critics say Bush's goals are unrealistic because it would mean finding an additional 129,000 square miles of farmland -- about the size of Kansas and Iowa combined -- to plant enough corn to meet the demand.

However, Somerville said Miscanthus-derived ethanol, which is distilled from the fermentation of sugars from the entire plant rather than just the grains, results in a higher yield per unit of land.

Miscanthus produces about twice as much biomass per acre without irrigation as other grasses, and reaching Bush's target of 35 billion gallons of biofuels annually would require far fewer acres of land.

Although environmentalists say planting corn for ethanol production will lead to widespread deforestation, Somerville said Miscanthus could be planted on land currently used for food production.

Somerville acknowledged deforestation was already taking place in Asia, where Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were expanding palm oil crops for the production of biodiesel.

"But is it worse for the environment than climate change? That's the question," he said. "Climate change threatens biodiversity more than anything that I know.

"For example, in British Columbia they are losing each year forests the size of Rhode Island because of beetle infestation, because it is not cold enough in the winter to kill the beetles, and they are killing the forest."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Scientists Convert Heat To Power Using Organic Molecules
Berkeley CA (SPX) Feb 20, 2007
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have successfully generated electricity from heat by trapping organic molecules between metal nanoparticles, an achievement that could pave the way toward the development of a new source for energy. The discovery, described in a study published today (Thursday, Feb. 15) in Science Express, an electronic publication of the journal Science, is a milestone in the quest for efficient ways to directly convert heat into electricity.

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