CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Grass could be the bioenergy crop of the future as the demand for biofuels increases, replacing corn as the premiere biofuel crop, U.S. researchers say.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have completed the first analysis of potential bioenergy grass crops in the Midwestern United States, a university release said Monday.
Corn ethanol is currently the main biofuel available but the demand for ethanol competes with corn's availability as food and that could drive up food costs, researchers say.
The U.S. government has mandated that 20 billion gallons of biofuels must be produced annually from non-corn biomass by 2022.
Large grasses, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, could provide the biomass necessary, with higher ethanol volumes per acre and lower water requirements than corn, scientists say.
Switchgrass is large prairie grass native to the Midwest. In Europe, miscanthus, a sterile hybrid, is already widely cultivated as a biofuel crop.
"It's a better way to achieve our goals of energy security and climate change mitigation," Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the university, says. "These two particular crops are among the more promising nonfood crops currently available for large-scale production."