Oklahoma to plant largest stand of switchgrass ever for fuel research

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ARDMORE, Okla. — Oklahoma recently secured land for the world’s largest stand of switchgrass devoted to cellulosic ethanol production.

Acknowledging concerns over ethanol production impacting food prices, Oklahoma advances switchgrass, a different type of energy crop, which has higher energy output than corn and does not compete with human or animal food sources.

Demonstration fields

The Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, a state-initiative championed by Gov. Brad Henry, secured land to enable the planting of more than 1,100 acres of production-scale demonstration fields for cellulosic energy crops, such as switchgrass and sorghum, to contribute to the United States’ bioenergy effort.

Planting will take place within the next 45 days. The critical piece of this effort is 1,000 acres of switchgrass that will be planted near Guymon, Okla. in the state’s panhandle. This switchgrass field will be the first of its size anywhere in the world focused on biomass production.

Additional acreage of sorghum and switchgrass will be planted near Chickasha and Maysville in central Oklahoma.

“Rising food costs recently resulted in a pushback against renewable fuels. However, cellulosic ethanol from sources like switchgrass and sorghum are noncompetitive with food sources for animals and humans and remove cellulosic ethanol from this discussion,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Energy David Fleischaker.

“More so, this dedicated land will allow us to demonstrate the advantages of switchgrass.”

Laboratory

Switchgrass is a perennial grass that is naturally drought resistant and grows on marginal lands. The Oklahoma Bioenergy Center demonstration fields will provide academia and industry a unique “living laboratory” to understand the production and long-term impact of bioenergy crops, as well as experiment with new production techniques and critical harvest, collection and transport methods.

The fields also will serve as a “living classroom” where agricultural producers, policymakers and the general public can see and experience these crops, which will play a key role in the United States’ energy future.

Biorefinery

A cellulosic biorefinery currently being constructed by Abengoa Bioenergy in Hugoton, Kan., will be less than 35 miles from Guymon, and the switchgrass fields in the panhandle will provide material to this biorefinery. The Abengoa Bioenergy facility is expected to be operational in 2010.

Revenues received from the sale of biomass will be reinvested in the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center for additional bioenergy and biofuel research.

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