Wednesday, September 13, 2006

They're not selling candy bars...

Unlike fundraisers I am familiar with, Cilion - a venture ethanol company - has raised $200 million in three months for next-generation ethanol plants:

The company plans to have 8 plant units in production by 2008 for a total of 440 million gallons per year capacity. By using a variety of innovations they claim that these plants will be cheaper and greener than standard corn-to-ethanol plants, substantially reducing the need for fossil fuels in ethanol production.

They claim the plants will have an energy balance advantage that is 2X that of gasoline with a greater than 90% reduction in petroleum use. They also claim that Cilion will be able to produce environmentally friendlier ethanol in California at a lower cost than ethanol produced in the traditional Midwest corn ethanol plants and delivered to California; and that the ethanol produced is expected to be price competitive per mileMandated markets offer a great deal of assurance to investors. Especially when the buzz on commodities seems to have been killed. driven with gasoline even if oil prices drop to $40 per barrel.

The thrust seems to be to leapfrog corn and win big with switchgrass (miscanthus x giganteus - sounds like an ancient Roman pro wrestler, doesn't it?).
In Khosla's simple arithmetic, with irrigation and other inputs, it would be possible to grow 20 tons of crops per acre and each ton of crop would yield 100 gallons of ethanol. Thus 50 million acres would generate as much as 100 billion gallons. Corn was expensive as the choice of crop; it would do only in the short run. He recommended switching over to a tall grass called miscanthus in the US, which would yield a higher profit. [More]
Somebody somewhere has got to be frantically growing switchgrass for seed. But I still don't get what growing switchgrass would be like:
It is a sterile cross, which means that it is not invasive as some varieties are, and it is propagated from rhizomes, similarly to irises. After planting, Miscanthus takes three years to mature for harvesting. It is left standing in the field to dry and is harvested from November to February with the same machinery that is used to harvest corn. It is very low in sulfur and carbon neutral so it has strong environmental benefits. The grass is one of the most efficient crops for growing in cold weather and is very drought resistant. Energy input to growing it is much lower than row crops since it is only planted once every 10 to 20 years. It improves soil by adding large amounts of organic matter to it. It requires little or no herbicides or fertilizer and no cultivation once it is established. [More]

Wait a miscanthus-picking moment - harvest from November to February? With a combine??? This stuff?

We gotta be talking big ole baler here. And one honkin' windrower - I'd say about 400 hp. 20 Tons/A? That's like 700 bu/A. - a LOT of stuff to handle/store/ship!

Maybe for ethanol you chop it?
Any ideas anybody??

Think about this - we'd have farming to do in the winter. We'd have to handle enormous volumes of stuff - which means more big shiny machines, and we'd only buy seed every decade or so.

I love it already!!!


Anonymous said...

I have been growing Switch grass for seed production since 1986 . The stand is still productive . After the seed is combined we bale the fodder and yes it does make a really big windrow. The seed can be purchased from Turner Seed of Breckenridge, Tx.,76424. 254-559-2065. It does not spread by rizome as it has no rizomes.

John Phipps said...

T8: Thanks for posting. I hope you make a bundle!Please note the later correction re: switchgrass and miscanthus.