Making the Unusable Profitable
Renewable fuels are providing an economic boost to many rural economies. The need for bioenergy crops also has increased the demand for new "biofuel" crops that can succeed on marginal lands, where it is difficult or impossible to grow food crops.
ARS scientists in Lincoln, NE, have developed the new perennial switchgrass 'Liberty' that is well adapted to the Upper Midwest and produces 530 gallons of bioethanol per acre, comparable to the 567 gallons-per-acre rate from corn grain grown on higher quality, food-cropping land. The comparable rates are important because relying too much on corn as an energy source will drive up its price.
This new ARS-developed switchgrass can grow on marginal lands where other crops can't necessarily grow. It is also high yielding, meaning that it will generate more revenue for both farmers and the bio-refineries they supply. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuels are already derived each year from switchgrass, and the new variety should enhance the crop's economic value.