Four new studies from the University of Illinois have indicated that energycane could produce higher yields of biofuel than soybeans – at a lower cost.
The studies were undertaken as part of the Renewable Oil Generated with Ultra-productive Energycane (ROGUE) project at the University, and examined sustainable ways of procuring and treating fuel from energycane, as well as determining the economic and technical viability of producing fuel from this source at a mass scale.
The ROGUE project looks at modifying triacylglycerides (TAGs) in energycane’s leaves and stems to allow a higher yield of vegetable oil to be obtained.
“Energycane is attractive in its ability to grow across a much wider geography of the U.S. south east than sugarcane. This is a region with much underutilized land, yet capable of rain-fed agriculture,” says ROGUE Director Steve Long, Ikenberry Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois in a press release from the University.
As energycane is a relatively new crop, little is known about how it can be treated to produce biofuels, a gap of knowledge that the University of Illinois researchers seek to fill. While standard pretreatment methods use chemicals such as sulfuric acid, the University has taken a chemical-free approach to make the process as ecologically sound as possible.
“Our research shows the potential to produce a remarkable 7.5 barrels of diesel per acre of land annually,” Long adds. “Together with co-products, this would be considerably more profitable than most current land use, while having the potential to contribute greatly to the national U.S. goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This proves how valuable it is to build on the successes already achieved in bioengineering energycane to accumulate oils that are easily converted into biodiesel and biojet.”
Soybean is the crop traditionally used to create biodiesel, with estimates showing one bushel of soybeans can yield 1.5 gallons of biodiesel. Yet as soybean cannot solely be used for biofuel – with many crops instead being used in food products, as well as other industrial applications – finding alternative sources of biofuel has been identified as a necessity to meet demand for the fuel. This matter is particularly pressing as the global biofuel demand is set to increase, with some predictions showing the market is expected to reach $170.02 billion by 2028 – representing a growth rate at a CAGR of 5.25% during the forecast period.