What Other Sources is Ethanol Research Concentrating on?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2018
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As with many sectors of the renewable energy field, ethanol research continues to be an evolving process. While the effects of sugar and corn ethanol have been largely documented, there are other types of vegetation that can also be used for ethanol. Figuring out which plant species work best for ethanol is one of the primary goals of ethanol research.

As with other types of gasoline additives, the primary concern for ethanol research is to find the most efficient way to produce it, while at the same time making it as safe as possible. This continuous search for efficiency in the process eventually will lead to looking at other types of materials being used. Once the technology has taken the corn kernel, or the sugar cane, as far as it can, other materials must be sought.

One of the main criticisms of ethanol currently is that it takes food stock away from humans and animals, thus making the overall cost of food, both grains and meats, more expensive. While there are those that dispute the wisdom of this type of criticism, ethanol research tends to try to circumvent the discussion entirely. In order to do that, food sources cannot be used.


Most ethanol research currently focuses on cellulose ethanol. This form of ethanol uses plant material that is not eaten by humans, and is usually not eaten by most forms of livestock. Therefore, there is no criticism of food being used for fuel. However, using non-edible sources of ethanol can be a very difficult thing to do for two main reasons. First, the plant material must be able to efficiently be converted to ethanol. Second, it must be present in large enough quantities as to make its harvesting and processing worth it.

Most ethanol research, at least in the United States, currently focuses on switchgrass. The research has shown many benefits to the switchgrass product. First, it can be cut, harvested and used for ethanol production without the need for replanting. This cuts down on a substantial amount of energy expended when using annual crops to produce ethanol. Second, a University of Nebraska study showed that switchgrass, on a per acre basis, can produce 93 percent more biomass than originally thought.

Switchgrass has another major benefit as well. While it can be grown on the same land as corn, switchgrass is better grown in slightly less organic soils. Therefore, it will often not be competing with corn for the same cropland. Still, to make the conversion truly efficient, more research needs to be done.



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