Fueling the Future: Potential Biomass Crops for Michigan (E3077)
Plant biomass—aboveground plant material that is not grain—is widely considered a promising replacement for petroleum for energy (including transportation fuels), plastics, composite materials, textiles and pharmaceuticals.
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Plant biomass—aboveground plant material that is not grain—is widely considered a promising replacement for petroleum for energy (including transportation fuels), plastics, composite materials, textiles and pharmaceuticals. The potential for the production of large amounts of plant biomass in the United States has been well documented1, and the end use of the plant biomass will be a factor in determining which biomass crops to grow. Some composite materials can utilize the strength of plant fibers to create durable products, thereby replacing the need for fiberglass. For example, flax, corn, jute and native grasses have strong fiber strength. Biomass heating and electrical generation industries may need biomass with high energy density, measured in Btu (British thermal units) per pound. For cellulosic ethanol production—making ethanol from plant biomass—an assurance of large volumes of biomass produced at low cost is a concern. The conversion of plant biomass to liquid fuel (ethanol) is similar to the process of converting corn grain to ethanol with an additional first step of converting the cellulose in the biomass to starches. This additional step requires new technology to make cellulosic ethanol financially competitive with corn grain ethanol and petroleum. Woody biomass is another practical option for petroleum replacement. Issues related to its production and processing are being addressed by a series of MSU Extension fact sheets, “Woody Biomass Energy for Michigan”