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USGS eyes switch grass mapping tools

March 30, 2012 at 7:48 AM

RESTON, Va., March 30 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists announced they're working to take the guesswork out of which crops to use for the production of biofuels in Nebraska grasslands.

The U.S. Geological Survey announced it developed a tool for mapping grasslands using remote sensing data from satellites.

The purpose of the survey is to identify areas in and around Nebraska that are ideally suited for the production of cellulosic biofuels from native switch grass.

"This innovative scientific study takes some of the guesswork out of deciding whether it could be feasible to raise a potentially high value crop for biofuels on America's grasslands," USGS Director Marcia McNutt said in a statement.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute announced last year they were working with new strains of Escherichia coli that could more easily digest biomass from switch grass for use in gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.

The USGS said it expected demand for biofuel products to increase as global economics search out alternatives to fossil fuels. The agency said "critical considerations" are made when examining energy derived from biofuels compared to the energy used to grow and process them.

The U.S. Energy Department in December announced that, along with the Department of Agriculture, it awarded $12.2 million for 10 separate grants that target improvements in biofuels and bioenergy crops.

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