A new hybrid grass may become a valuable fuel source that can substitute for oil, coal and natural gas. Miscanthus giganteus can grow 13 feet high. Europeans have been burning compacted grass pellets for decades. They don’t use them in their cars, but that day could be coming soon. Meanwhile, grass makes an excellent biofuel for home heating. Despite the potential pollution from smoke, burning grass is approved of by environmentalists. Instead of mowing their fields to produce hay, farmers could easily produce compressed grass pellets.
Agriculture researcher Jerry Cherney says, “It takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass for pellets, but it takes 70 million years to make fossil fuels.” Grass pellet fuel caught on in Europe after the government started subsidizing it, but nothing like that is happening here yet.
Grass pellets produce more ash than wood does, meaning stoves that burn it need more frequent cleaning, but that’s a small price to pay for such an efficient fuel. Burning grass pellets emits up to 90% less greenhouse gas than burning oil, coal or natural gas.
Miscanthus is a rhizome grass, meaning it spreads underground along runners, the same way strawberry plants do. Rhizomatous grasses burn very clean. Burning Miscanthus grass produces only as much CO2 as it removes from the air as it grows, so it doesn’t raise overall greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
Miscanthus also is remarkably easy to grow. It outgrows any weeds that try to attack it and requires little water or fertilizer.
Speaking of fertilizer, it’s also possible to utilize cow pat power. In case you live in the desert and can’t burn grass, a new study suggests that some of the microorganisms found in cow pats may provide a reliable source of electricity. The microbes in the fermented, liquefied feed extracted from the rumen, the largest chamber of a cow’s stomach, can produce 600 millivolts of electricity, which is about half the voltage needed to run an AA battery.
While it isn’t practical to extract the rumen fluid itself for use an energy source, some of the microorganisms found in the fluid are also found in cow dung, which may prove to be a good source for generating electricity. Using cow dung as an energy source isn’t a new idea: Cow pats are regularly burned for fuel in India and some farmers already use the methane released by livestock waste to power machinery and lights. But converting methane into electricity requires costly equipment?one California dairy farmer spent $280,000 to convert his operation to a methane digester system.
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