Switchgrass could extend energy supply

By Tom Lollis

SwitchgrassSwitchgrass, a native summer perennial, may one day help stretch the nation’s energy supply. A prolific producer of biomass, 10 tons or more per acre for some types, switchgrass can grow up to 12 feet tall with stems as thick and strong as hardwood pencils. It can be converted to ethanol fuel; however, the current process is not as efficient as for other crops such as corn.

Nick Rigas, director of the S.C. Institute for Energy Studies at Clemson, is leading the search for more efficient ways to covert switchgrass to ethanol. Partners include S.C. Bio, the Savannah River National Laboratory and other state agencies. A search is underway for funding to build a laboratory and pilot plant for ethanol production.

Jim Frederick, agronomist at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center, will lead the production effort, in collaboration with environmental engineer Shelie Miller and entomologist Francis Reay-Jones. “We will plant between 15 and 20 acres of switchgrass in the spring of 2007,” Frederick said. “Because it grows slowly at first, full production will take three years.”

For information: Jim Frederick, 843-669-1912, ext. 228, jfrdrck@clemson.edu; Nick Rigas, 864-656-2267, nrigas@clemson.edu; Shelie Miller, 864-656-5572, millers@clemson.edu