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Mixed prairie grasses are better biofuel source, U of M study says

MINNEAPOLIS-ST.PAUL (12/04/2006)Highly diverse mixtures of native prairie plant species have emerged as a leader in the quest to identify the best source of biomass for producing sustainable, bio-based fuel to replace petroleum.

A new study led by David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology in the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences, shows that mixtures of native perennial grasses and other flowering plants provide more usable energy per acre than corn grain ethanol or soybean biodiesel and are far better for the environment.

"Biofuels made from high-diversity mixtures of prairie plants can reduce global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even when grown on infertile soils, they can provide a substantial portion of global energy needs, and leave fertile land for food production," Tilman said.

The findings are published in the Dec. 8 issue of the journal Science and featured on the cover.

Based on 10 years of research at Cedar Creek Natural History Area, the study shows that degraded agricultural land planted with highly diverse mixtures of prairie grasses and other flowering plants produces 238 percent more bioenergy on average, than the same land planted with various single prairie plant species, including monocultures of switchgrass.

Tilman and two colleagues, postdoctoral researcher Jason Hill and research associate Clarence Lehman, estimate that fuel made from this prairie biomass would yield 51 percent more energy per acre than ethanol from corn grown on fertile land. This is because perennial prairie plants require little energy to grow and because all parts of the plant above ground are usable.

Fuels made from prairie biomass are "carbon negative," which means that producing and using them actually reduces the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. This is because prairie plants store more carbon in their roots and soil than is relea
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Contact: David Ruth
druth@umn.edu
612-624-1690
University of Minnesota
7-Dec-2006


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