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Making Energy From Grass

By mattyb77 in MLP
Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:36:13 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Apparently, according to this Salon article, there's now a power plant in Iowa that's experimenting with burning switchgrass as a way to reduce harmful gaseous emissions to the atmosphere.

Not only can this help reduce damage to the environment, but could help the economy in areas in Iowa where corn and soybeans are difficult to grow.


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Making Energy From Grass | 18 comments (15 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
hmm.. (4.16 / 6) (#1)
by djx on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 01:20:06 AM EST

This idea has been kicked around before, it's good to see it actually being tested. Currently, though, there is one big problem with this: It would take 50,000 acres to supply one small plant with enough grass for 25% grass / 75% coal combustion. This isn't really a huge generating station (650MW) and that's a lot of land.

But, that aside, +1/section.

-<end of transmission>-
Good Point (2.66 / 3) (#2)
by mattyb77 on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 01:33:27 AM EST

That's a good point, and you're right about that being a lot of land, but I wonder if it is possible to use other crops or import switchgrass from other areas. I'm sure there must be other areas of the USA (or world, for that matter) that are able to grow crops that can be used to generate energy -- crops that otherwise couldn't be used for much else.

Perhaps California needs something like this, but then what would they burn? :-)

"I bestow upon myself the `Doctorate of Cubicism', for educators are ignorant of Nature's Harmonic Time Cube Principle and cannot bestow the prestigious honor of wisdom upon the wisest human ever." -- Gene Ray, the wisest human ever
[ Parent ]
How cow.. (3.42 / 7) (#3)
by BigZaphod on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 02:06:58 AM EST

A story about little old Iowa on K5? Wow.. I never thought I'd see that happen.. (Just a stunned Iowan. Please ignore :-).

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
Blah (1.00 / 1) (#16)
by nstenz on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:33:19 PM EST

I'm giving you a 5, just because you live there. (Now watch me get modded to 0... ouch.) =)

Now someone write something about Wisconsin... Hey, don't look at me like that- I don't wanna write... You can't make me. Nooooooooooooooooo!
Ok, I'm better now. Still bored, but better.

[ Parent ]
Conversion Efficiency (4.37 / 8) (#5)
by cameldrv on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 02:38:16 AM EST

The problem with biomass is that plants just aren't that efficient. They have less than a 1% light conversion efficiency. When we add in harvesting and generation inefficiencies, we are way under 1%. This means that we would have to use huge swaths of arable land to support our electricity needs, while with photovoltaics, we get 10% efficiency and they don't need good soil, so you can put them in the sunniest places.

Odd concept (3.80 / 5) (#8)
by jabber on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:20:44 AM EST

Burning grass, wood, garbage, is not a new concept at all. Most fossil burning facilities can accomodate a pretty wide variety of biomass fuels in addition to their primaries (coal, oil, natural gas).

What's odd about this is that the grass is actually being made the primary fuel, to which I can only say: "Wow! That's a whole lot of grass!". Biomass has a lower energy content than fossil fuels, and a typical coal plant burns in the hundreds of tonnes of coal per hour. You'd need equivalent mass of grass to get any useful energy out of that plant, and that's a HUGE amount of grass. Where do you grow it all? What a great way to exhaust the local soil.

Biomass is a great additional fuel, especially when trying to clear an area while powering the equipment that does so. My unexpert opinion would be that Iowans would do better with windmill farms.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Grass? (3.33 / 6) (#9)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:34:06 AM EST

Strange, I've known people who tried to embibe grass for the purpose of energy (at least, this is what they told me they were doing), but all it ever seemed to do was make them lay around on the floor and get the munchies.
I just read K5 for the articles.
Wondering When (2.33 / 3) (#12)
by mattyb77 on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:44:20 AM EST

I was wondering when someone was going to say something about weed. :-)

"I bestow upon myself the `Doctorate of Cubicism', for educators are ignorant of Nature's Harmonic Time Cube Principle and cannot bestow the prestigious honor of wisdom upon the wisest human ever." -- Gene Ray, the wisest human ever
[ Parent ]
I'm not a pothead. (2.00 / 2) (#13)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 10:14:51 AM EST

Just so you know, I'm not a pot-head. I've never done any drug in my life, most certainly not marijuana. I just felt I should clarify, since I'm the one who made the first drug statement and it probably makes me look guilty. Of course, protesting as much as I am now probably makes me appear more guilty. But I'm not. Actually, now I probably look paranoid, even. I'm not paranoid. Honestly. And I'm not a druggie. And I've never smoked. Not only haven't I inhaled, i've never held a roach, joint or blunt. Damn, I'm hungry.
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]
It'll Never Fly. (3.50 / 6) (#10)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:37:01 AM EST

The problem with alternative fuels is that they'll never be accepted. OPEC and the national and international energy grids will not allow it, because it is not in the best interest of their businesses. This is why cars are not capable of the mileage they could achieve and the various methods of safer, cheaper, anually replacable fuels have been ignored for the last several decades, despite their existence.
I just read K5 for the articles.
The point some people may be missing here.. (4.60 / 5) (#11)
by Da Unicorn on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 09:42:36 AM EST

I would like to note a couple of things here.

The first being that biomass is renewable and does not take millions of years to "process".

The second being that switchgrass grows in poor soil that requires a huge anmount of chemicals and fertilizers to produce anything resembling a cash crop.

I have used ethanol blended gasoline since it was introduced. at 10% of the blend I have saved a LOT of non renewable resources.

Oh.. I live in Iowa and used to farm in the area where they are doing this. Believe me when I say it would be a good use of a lot of the local land.

Grasses have this great ability to stabilize and improve marginal and erodeable land. Corn and Soybeans are hard on land and require chemicals. etc. to produce reasonable yields.

My 2 bushels worth. Da

No dangerous gases? (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by DesiredUsername on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 12:00:02 PM EST

One of the most dangerous gases is CO2--one of the big players in the greenhouse effect. Biomass is organic. Organic = carbon. Burning = combining with oxygen. Therefore all biomass burning results in CO2.

Play 囲碁
Biology class (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by kagaku_ninja on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:08:22 PM EST

Where did the carbon come from? Perhaps the plants are removing carbon from the atmosphere by converting CO2 into O2?

[ Parent ]
Read the article? (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by nstenz on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 03:42:29 PM EST

Coal has a heck of a lot of carbon in it too you know... Coal is mostly carbon. The impact on the environment would be less than it is from burning coal alone, as they are doing now. From the article:

Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, said in a 1999 report that carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by nearly 177,000 tons per year ... if 5 percent of the coal were replaced with switchgrass.

[ Parent ]
The Biomass concept (5.00 / 2) (#18)
by cameldrv on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 07:00:54 PM EST

The idea is that you have a closed cycle because the carbon in the plants you burn came from the air, and will be reclaimed when you plant the next year. Therefore over the long run, you consume no additional carbon. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon which has been trapped for millions of years with no plan to put it back.

[ Parent ]
Making Energy From Grass | 18 comments (15 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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