Interest in renewable forms of energy has increased due to concern for the future supply of fossil fuels, the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels on air quality, and the desire to support local agriculture. Although considered a global issue, utilizing switchgrass as a biofuel is a significant local development.

Clemson University's switchgrass website focuses on these topics:

Switchgrass field at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center, planted May 2007 and photographed in October 2007.

This research was made possible by a donation from Ernst Conservation Seeds.
Researchers Reay-Jones, Frederick and Savereno studying first year growth of switchgrass.

Crops such as corn and soybeans are currently being used to produce biofuels. Scientists are exploring ways warm-season grasses (such as switchgrass, Panicum virgatum) can be used for making ethanol from plant cellulose, for raw material in coal-fired electric generation facilities, and/or for making synfuels. Compared with other plant species, ethanol made from perennial warm-season grasses can result in:

  • less energy needed for production,
  • a reduction in greenhouse gases,
  • less potential for agrichemical pollution,
  • crop production on poorer soils,
  • less displacement of land for food production or loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction,
  • fewer environmental impacts.

Clemson University scientists, in collaboration with USDA-ARS researchers, are initiating studies that will maximize production of native warm-season grasses under the climatic, soil, and socio-economic conditions encountered by farmers and other landowners in South Carolina.

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Although a perennial grass, switchgrass sets seed the year of sowing.