We learn from Sydney Treehugger Warren McLaren1 that a couple of agricultural scientists from Southern Cross University in Australia have been experimenting with phytoliths.
No really, those crazy Aussies are at it again, Alice!
“Get away from the curtains before they see the flash from your high-powered binoculars, Harold.”
“We have a vision of restoring a lot of prairie throughout the Midwest, and having something that will be mowed every year for hay and then either pelletized and burned, or converted into ethanol,” says University of Minnesota Professor David Tilman, who has conducted prairie grass research at the Cedar Creek Natural History Area for 12 years. A world-renowned ecologist, Tilman is lead author of a new study about prairie grasses as a biofuel source.
Researchers have learned that harvesting the grass after a killing frost and leaving the root bit on site is better because the cold stimulates the plant to store the nutrients in the plant body. Furthermore, it would seem that certain plants, in particular grass crops, like wheat and sorghum, “can lock away some of those excessive carbon atoms we’re so alarmed about.”
Apparently microscopic balls of silica, bind to the plant’s cells as they draw up minerals up from the soil. They are thought to make the plant stronger while protecting it from disease. Known as phytoliths, or plantstones these silica balls also trap scraps of plant material and thus carbon. And what’s more they are considered near indestructible. So when the plant dies the plantstones find themselves back in the soil locking up carbon for what is believed to be thousands of years.
This blog has mentioned bio-energy experiments with several varieties of grasses, to include:
While not a grass,
Miscanthus is a genus of about 15 species of perennial grasses native to subtropical and tropical regions of Africa and southern Asia. Miscanthus, a.k.a, “elephant grass”, can be used to produce heat, CHP or electricity power on a range of scales from large power stations (30 MW+) requiring hundreds of thousands of tonnes of biomass annually, to small-scale systems (on-farm or single building) requiring just a few dozen tonnes during winter months.” There also is some research underway at the University of Illinois and elsewhere into its conversion to biofuel.
Indeed, as far back as ‘05, this blog enthusiastically noted that “fast growing, warm season, perennial grasses have been identified as ideal candidates for biomass fuel production due to their high net energy yield per hectare and low cost of production.” On the other hand, this blog recently relayed the results of a Swiss study, which showed while biofuels emit less greenhouse gases than gasoline when burned, they can have a greater composite environmental cost than fossil fuels. And, while the focus is upon GHG, the availability of water is another issue with lignocellulosic crops.
By and large, the United Nations favors such low-tech, carbon-negative bio-energy. They are seen as currently commercially available technologies and practices to mitigate GHG emissions from the agriculture sector.
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1Great Balls of Carbon
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