While there is still much work to be done, especially in the area of establishing markets, some of these energy crops are showing promise for Georgia and the Southeast.
As for markets, they are starting to be developed, he says.
In Tennessee, 6,000 acres are being grown for ethanol. There is a working pilot plant where biomass is being converted from switchgrass into cellulose-derived ethanol. There’s also a movement to pelletize the material and co-fire it with coal, using it as an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says Hardimon.
“The market for switchgrass could be a cellulosic ethanol market or a market for bio-power. With cellulosic ethanol, you harvest the entire plant, break it down through enzymes, and the sugar produces ethanol. You can also go out and harvest this, take it to a pelletizer, process the material, and it goes from there to a utility where they mix it with coal,” he says.
University of Georgia Extension agronomist Dewey Lee is one of a team of researchers evaluating the potential of bio-mass crops. “We’re looking at crops and perennial grasses that we hope will be converted into some form of energy. We’re all concerned about our use of foreign oil, and we want to become less dependent on it. With corn, we’re able to produce 12 to 13 billion gallons of ethanol per year, and we can produce even more than that. The gasoline you’re using now may have 10 percent ethanol in it, and maybe in the next year it’ll go up to 12 to 15 percent. This is giving us a start,” he says.
Researchers are hoping to find crops from which bio-mass can be converted into some form of energy, says Lee. One of those is miscanthus, a tall Asian perennial grass that grows rapidly in temperate climates. It has been widely used as an energy crop in Europe for the past 20 years.
“We can convert grasses and perennial grasses, and we can convert corn, corn stovers, and even sorghum into some form of energy,” he says.