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Oklahoma researchers look to refuel ethanol

The extended drought has reduced the country's corn supply and driven up corn costs, affecting the price of ethanol and gasoline. Oklahoma researchers are working to solve both problems.
by Adam Wilmoth Published: August 24, 2012

With ethanol, corn is king because it is relatively easy to recover from corn the sugars necessary for fuel.

Other less-favorable plants also contain enough sugar for ethanol, but most of those are thick, tough, so-called “cellulosic” plants that are much more difficult to break down.

Oklahoma researchers are trying to change that, focusing their efforts on switchgrass, a weed that is natural to this part of the country and can be cultivated.

Researchers at OSU and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore are working to develop a switchgrass breed that yields higher amounts of usable plant per acre.

At the same time, researchers at the University of Oklahoma are trying to develop a switchgrass strain that is easier to break down into more simple sugars.

And researchers in other parts of the country are working on the methods and procedures that convert the plant into fuel, hoping to both increase the amount of ethanol produced and decrease the economic and energy costs involved in the process.

But don't expect to fill you tank with fuel from switchgrass any time soon.

Much of the research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, which has a stated goal of powering 30 percent of the country's transportation fuel with biofuels by 2030, with about half that amount comprised by cellulosic ethanol.

by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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