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Issue 15
, 2009
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Source: Scientific American, Date: , 2009

U.S.can no longer afford the dangers that their dependence on petroleum poses for their national , economic or environmental security. So alternate sources are to be tapped. Biofuel seems to be that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Biofuels can be made from anything that is, or ever was, a plant. First-generation biofuels derive from edible biomass, primarily corn and soybeans (in the U.S.) and sugarcane (in Brazil), given that the technology to convert these feedstocks into fuels already exists Yet first-generation biofuels are not a long-term solution. There is simply not enough available farmland to provide more than about 10 percent of developed countries’ liquid-fuel needs with first-generation biofuels. The additional crop demand raises the price of animal feed and thus makes some food items more expensive.And once the total emissions of
growing, harvesting and processing corn are factored into the ledger, it becomes clear that first-generation biofuels are not as environmentally friendly as we would like them to be.Therefore enter the second generation biofuels made from the inedible part of the foodstock.

Second-generation biofuels are made from cellulosic material—colloquially, “grassoline" and can avoid these pitfalls. Grassoline can be made from various sources: from wood residues such as sawdust and construction debris, to agricultural residues such as cornstalks and wheat straw, to “energy crops”—fast-growing grasses and woody materials that are grown expressly to serve as feedstocks for grassoline. Thus they ensure an abundant suppy withoutand do not interfere with food production. Most energy crops can grow on marginal lands that would not otherwise be used as farmland.