How switchgrass could potentially fuel cars in the future

Breanna Cataldo, Features Editor

UNF assistant biology professor Michael Aspinwall, is currently working to find a fuel alternative for the future by growing different types of switchgrass on the roof of the Biological Science’s building. The U.S. Department of Energy is interested in studying the switchgrass as a fuel alternative due to its’ adaptability to temperature.

Aspinwall predicts that switchgrass from warmer parts of the country will be more tolerant of higher temperatures. He believes it’s important to study switchgrass as a fuel alternative because its’ adaptability to changing temperatures could affect other plants in the future.

Although Aspinwall won’t be apart of the process of converting the grass into ethanol, he is helping the process. By creating a portable photosynthesis machine, Aspinwall can measure the amount of carbon dioxide the plant leaves absorb.

Photosynthesis is usually an invisible process, but with the machine, you can see the process in numbers and charts in real time. A small chamber at the front of the machine clamps the plant inside, and the tablet  shows the fluctuating statistics of the plant on the screen.

When he used the machine on switchgrass, Aspinwall said the screen showed that the leaves absorbs twice the amount of carbon dioxide per second than normal grass does.

Once switchgrass can be used as alternative fuel, Aspinwall will be able to show researchers the ideal places to grow it.


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