Fort Collins, Colorado – Using grass instead of corn to produce biofuel could increase yields while reducing air and water pollution, according to a new study by scientists at Colorado State University and collaborators from the University of Illinois.

The scientists looked at the U.S. “corn belt” in the Midwest region and found that using biofuel grass species such as switchgrass in the same land area used to grow corn could result in an increase in ethanol production, a reduction in nitrogen leaching into the Gulf of Mexico, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emission created in the corn belt. By replacing corn ethanol, perennial grasses could increase the productivity of food and fuel within the region without causing additional indirect land use change.

“Raising perennial biofuel crops on previously cultivated land in the United States will result in massive reductions in greenhouse gas fluxes from agricultural systems,” said senior research scientist William Parton. “Growing perennial biofuel crops on low-production agricultural land can result in large environmental benefits such as improved air and water quality, as well as increased ethanol production and sustained production of corn and soybeans.”

Parton said that growing perennial crops for ethanol production would result in a 15 to 30 per cent reduction in nitrogen leaching into the Gulf of Mexico when compared to production of corn-based fuel, and the study suggests that more research should be conducted on how to produce ethanol from biofuel crops.

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