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Change Crops For Greener Biofuels, Scientist Says

Herb Fellow

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Canada should be looking at different crops for biofuels because the original reasons for promoting ethanol have changed, plant physiologist David Layzell said.

The use of food crops like corn to make ethanol is pushing up food prices and consuming a product that can sustain people. Switchgrass has potential as a biofuel that doesn't reduce food supplies, David Layzell said.

Instead, Layzell told CBC.ca on Friday, Canada should be looking at crops like poplar, willow, switchgrass or hemp as fuel sources. "All you want is the energy," he said. Crops that produce "more kilometres per hectare," don't reduce food supplies and don't take valuable nutrients out of the soil are what are needed.

Wheat can produce 5,000 kilometres per hectare, biodiesel 10,000, cellulose about 15,000 and biomass-to-liquid systems (whereby organic material is converted into a "synfuel") 25,000, he said.

Layzell said biofuels could be used to:

* Support farm incomes by creating a new market.
* Increase energy security by substituting for petrolem products.
* Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When biofuels initially became popular, the third aim was not really important, and the second only somewhat important. But those factors have become much more significant, and "the biofuels we're using now will solve neither of those problems," Layzell said.

If slowing climate change is the No. 1 aim, making solid fuels out of wood and straw pellets to replace coal would be the solution. "But that's not going to drive your car."

That requires a liquid fuel, and he spoke enthusiastically about a Volvo test last year that developed trucks running non-fossil fuels. The best-performing fuels — considering efficiency, emissions, compatability with existing fuel infrastructure and inputs required — were based on biomass-to-liquid systems, Layzell said.

He is founder and CEO of the Biocap Canada Foundation at Queen's University, in Kingston, which has been seeking biological solutions for climate change and clean energy.

It has run out of money and is set to close March 31, but Layzell has been appointed executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary. He will focus on environmentally friendly energy systems at the institute.

Source: CBC News
Copyright: 2008 CBC News
Contact: Staff
Website: Change crops for greener biofuels, scientist says
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