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Fueling the Future: Elephant Grass as Potential Biofuel Material (And More)

A common perennial grass may hold uncommon promise for research, agriculture and industry, and it may even fuel the future.

NC State University, in collaboration with an integrative, multidisciplinary team of research and business partners, is leading a five-year, $4.6 million U.S. Department of Energy grant focusing on miscanthus, also known as elephant grass, as biomass material for biofuels and bioproducts.

The team includes NC State faculty members in biological and agricultural engineering, crop and soil sciences, horticultural science, and plant and microbial biology, as well as researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Novozymes North America and Iogen Corp.

Working together, the researchers will evaluate how well different miscanthus hybrids perform in the Southeast as feedstocks for biofuels and bioproducts. Collaborators are looking at crop energy, supply-chain and environmental and economic questions and issues, both developmentally and within current commercial lines.

Professor Mari Chinn, an integrated bioenergy systems expert in NC State’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, is the lead investigator.

“If we can grow a bioenergy crop like miscanthus on soils that are technically not as suitable for our common commodities like corn and soybeans, cotton (and) tobacco, then that might be a better crop for us to grow in those spaces,” Chinn said. “And if there’s some added land-use or other ecological benefit, then there’s value there as well.”

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