Where the clean grass grows
UGA was one of eight universities selected to receive two grants to research more effective ways to produce biofuels from switchgrass and sunflowers.
The grants, which total $2.5 million, are part of a program jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program intends to accelerate research in biomass genomics and advance the use of plant material for bioenergy and biofuels.
Some species of wild sunflower have woody stems—which produce high amounts of biomass—and can reach heights of 18 to 21 feet. Switchgrass is a perennial that can grow in poor soil with little water, fertilizer or pesticides, unlike corn, which is used to make most of the ethanol used in the U.S.
Yielding ethanol from renewable biomass sources such as grasses is more beneficial because they are potentially available in larger quantities. Using non-food crops to produce ethanol would alleviate the food-versus-fuel debate stimulated by the use of vegetable crops, which causes the cost of those crops to fluctuate because of competing demands for food and fuel.