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How Grassoline Works

RELEASED April 17, 2008
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Episode Summary
Could switch grass become the car fuel of the future? Learn more about alternative fuel in this HowStuffWorks podcast.

Announcer

Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark

Hey there, welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh Clark; I am a staff writer here at howstuffworks.com. And with me today is my trusty editor, Chris Pollete. Chris and I don't always see eye-to-eye on what should or shouldn't go into the article but I can tell you one that we both agree on and find fascinating; it's an article that I wrote and he edited called, "Can we fuel cars with grass?" So, Chris, why don't you tell the folks about this article and what it says.

Chris Pollete

Well, basically, switch grass is one of the feedstock's for a bio-fuel and of course that's something that pops up in the news all the time now is ethanol or bio-diesel but instead of using corn, which is something of course that people and animals eat or sugar can -

Josh Clark

Which is delicious?

Chris Pollete

- oh, yes, yes, absolutely but very hard to find in the continental U.S.

Josh Clark

Sure.

Chris Pollete

We can use switch grass which is a great source of cellulose which is the substance I believe you told me that cell walls are made up of. Basically, what they do is they break it down and make it into a fuel, just like you'd refine oil into gasoline except you can't find fossil fuels just anywhere. We're possibly approaching peak oil as you mentioned in another one of your articles and so this is something that might be grown all over the world in lots that aren't good enough to grow crops on, it might be a really good solution.

Josh Clark

Well, not only that but switch grass has the wonderful trait of being able to improve soil where it grows so like you were saying, it grows in marginal scrublands that can't be used for farming anyway and it actually improves the soil so you grow some switch grass in an area for about a dozen years and next thing you know, presto chango, that's airable farm land now. So, it would definitely help Africa out quite a bit which is one of the regions where it can grow wild, too. So, tell us what switch grass is specifically?

Chris Pollete

Well, switch grass is, as its name suggests, a grass. It's not particularly pleasant to look at. It's - I think some people consider it invasive and more like a weed than anything else.

Josh Clark

Yes, farmers especially.

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