Why We Need to Look Beyond Corn for Biofuels

(Francis Thicke is the Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

According to a new study from Purdue University, future expansion of ethanol production from corn would mean higher loadings of fertilizers and pesticides to water resources.  The study found that water sources near fields of continuous corn had higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and fungicides than corn-soybean rotations.  The study did not compare perennial crops, but no doubt they would be even more protective of water resources because perennial crops better protect the soil from erosion and nitrate leaching, and require less pesticide use.

More information about the study can be found at http://www.laboratoryequipment…

This study calls attention to the urgent need to accelerate development of technology to produce biofuels from perennial crops, which protect the soil and require fewer inputs of fertilizers and pesticides than corn.  Technologies under development that would fill this need include cellulosic ethanol production and pyrolysis, both of which could use biomass from perennial crops.

Pyrolysis is a process of heating biomass in the absence of oxygen to produce gaseous and liquid fuels that can be converted to gasoline and diesel fuel.  Another byproduct of pyrolysis is biochar, a charcoal material that can serve as a carbon-sequestering soil amendment that improves soil fertility.

The future for biofuels production from perennial crops through pyrolysis looks promising, though more research is needed to fully develop the technology.  Pyrolysis produces a higher energy yield per unit of biomass and has a smaller carbon footprint than ethanol production.

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