Second-generation biofuels are much cleaner than corn ethanol thanks to a number of biological characteristics, said DeLucia, a professor of plant biology at the U of I. In a 2011 study, DeLucia used a model to show what would happen if the land being used to grow corn for ethanol production was instead converted to Miscanthus and switchgrass.
“Our results were staggering,” DeLucia said. “Since both of those plants are perennial, you don’t till every year, so you release less carbon to the atmosphere. The grasses also require less fertilizer, which is a source of nitrous oxide, and they store more carbon in the ground than corn.”
Switching from using 40 per cent of the corn crop for ethanol production to using the same land to grow biofuel grasses “changed the entire agricultural Midwest from a net source of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, to a net sink.”
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