Burn Grass, Get Green Biofuel

By Roland Piquepaille

Do you want to use an economical and environmentally friendly biofuel? Just grow grass. Burning grass pellets will produce an energy-efficient biofuel, according to Jerry Cherney, a professor of agriculture at Cornell University. In this news release, "Grass as Fuel," he says "Burning grass pellets makes sense; after all, it takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass for pellets, but it takes 70 million years to make fossil fuels." Unfortunately, there is anything like a grass political lobby in Washington, so he might not be heard. But with current oil prices, more and more people will be tempted to use cheaper -- and cleaner -- sources of energy. Read more...

Here is the introduction of the Cornell University news release.

Grow grass, not for fun but for fuel. Burning grass for energy has been a well-accepted technology in Europe for decades. But not in the United States.
Yet burning grass pellets as a biofuel is economical, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable, says a Cornell University forage crop expert.
This alternative fuel easily could be produced and pelleted by farmers and burned in modified stoves built to burn wood pellets or corn, says Jerry Cherney, the E.V. Baker Professor of Agriculture. Burning grass pellets hasn't caught on in the United States, however, Cherney says, primarily because Washington has made no effort to support the technology with subsidies or research dollars.

Why is it important for environment?

Burning grass pellets makes sense; after all, it takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass for pellets, but it takes 70 million years to make fossil fuels," says Cherney, who notes that a grass-for-fuel crop could help supplement farmers' incomes.
Cherney points out that grass biofuel pellets are much better for the environment because they emit up to 90 percent less greenhouse gases than oil, coal and natural gas do. Furthermore, he says, grass is perennial, does not require fertilization and can be grown on marginal farmland.

Cherney recently presented his conclusions about grass biofuel at the Greenhouse Gases & Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture and Forestry conference, held March 21-24 in Baltimore.

You can find the abstract of his talk, "Grass Bioenergy in the Northeastern USA," on this page. Just scroll a little bit or search for Cherney on the page.

If you're interested in this subject, here is a link to the July 2004 issue of the "Dairy & Field Crops digest" (PDF format, 12 pages, 728KB). The article "Grass Management for Forage or Biofuel?" appears on pages 7 and 8.

In this article, Cherney argues that "grass is converted to useable heat at over 80% efficiency, with an energy output:input ratio exceeding 10:1, compared to other bioenergy sources with typicalsystem energy output:input ratios around 1:1."

The cost-effectiveness of pelletized grass as a fuel results from:
  • efficient use of low cost marginal farmland for solar energy collection
  • minimal fossil fuel input use in field production and energy conversion
  • minimal biomass quality upgrading which limits energy loss from the feedstock
  • efficient combustion in advanced yet modestly priced and simple to use devices
  • replacement of expensive high-grade energyforms in space and water heating

Cherney is convincing, but it's hard to help him while living in Paris.

Sources: Cornell University News Service, March 31, 2005; and various websites

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