Apr 28 - May 11, 2008

A modern research carried out in the U.S.A. has proved that a considerably better quality and higher quantity of bio-fuel can be obtained from switch grass than from corn, sugarcane or any other agricultural product. A team of American scientists, who were engaged in research and study succeeded in producing 540 percent more energy from switch grass than from other sources by using the requisite fuel manufacturing technology.


Although the methodology, as admitted by these scientists, for getting ethanol from switch grass is comparatively complicated as for getting a bio-fuel from food crops like maize and sugarcane, much more quantity of bio-fuel can be procured even from second generation because this fuel is not obtained from seeds rather the entire plant of switch grass can be used for the purpose. Moreover, it has many extra advantages over and above other bio-fuels obtained from other sources. Green-house gases emissions by using this fuel has been assessed to be 88 percent less. It has been concluded after experimentation that the ethanol obtained from switch grass when used as fuel, emits 94 percent less carbon-dioxide than gasoline (petrol). It is also worthwhile to mention that in the process of burning bio-fuel a good quantity of carbon-dioxide, that is emitted, can be lessened by switch grass plants.

Unlike maize, sugarcane and other food crops, switch grass can be grown in less fertile and marginal lands and under somewhat adverse climatic conditions. Thus growing switch grass for obtaining bio-fuel does not disturb the chain of food crops production, which is essential for human and live-stock consumption.


Reportedly, switch grass requires less fertilizer than other crops. Thus it requires less amount of investment. Moreover, the quantity of biomass obtained from switch grass is much larger. One thousand gallons bio-fuel can be obtained from one acre switch grass. On the contrary, only 665 gallons of bio-fuel can be obtained from sugarcane and 400 gallons from maize grown on one acre of land. The entire raw material of switch grass is used to obtain ethanol /bio-fuel. No other fuel is required to produce bio-fuel from switch grass. It is important to point out that it does not increase the green-house gas emissions. This fuel can be used easily in vehicles being run on petrol.

Ethanol is a bio-fuel, which can be obtained from sugarcane and corn. However, ethanol obtained from switch grass, as explained above, has much more efficiency than that obtained from other sources. The U.S.A. has obtained the bio-fuel technology from Brazil, which enjoys the status of a pioneer in bio-fuel introduction and production in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Special Renewable Energy Laboratory, ethanol which is known as ethanol alcohol or green alcohol has tolerable odour. It is a clean and colourless liquid fuel. Using bio-fuel, harmful material emission from exhaust can be reduced and environment safety can be maintained. Moreover, ethanol can be recycled. It is not like fossil fuel. It provides high octane at cheaper price. Ethanol can be used in the engine without any mechanical medication/change.


Switch grass is found in North and South America and Africa. Its scientific name is Panicum virgatum and it belongs to Lillopsida class of Poaceae family. Besides in gassy lands and grazing fields, it is found on the road-sides. It is also grown as a decorative plant in gardens. When fully grown, it reaches a height from half a meter to 2.5 meters. It is also used as a fodder for some livestock. It is grown in medium type lands and in lands with less moisture. It is also grown in such lands, where the sun shines at full scale and there is a partial shade. It is grown in spring when corn is grown.


Some initial work was also started in Pakistan for producing bio-fuel/ethanol from sugarcane and corn. As the scribe understands, some of the sugar mills including Ganj Shakkar Mills, Jhang were also directed by the government to produce bio-fuel on trial basis. The outcome of such tests and trials carried out by the sugar mills have not been made public. Keeping the public in the dark on such vital subjects does not serve any positive purpose rather it creates misunderstandings and misgivings about the efficiency and performance of the authorities concerned. The authorities must publicize their progress through print and electronic media to keep the public well aware of the updated position.


Pakistan is passing through a very critical stage as far as energy crisis and oil prices are concerned. There is over-crowded vehicular traffic in big cities of Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan, which, besides burdening the country with spending substantial amount of foreign exchange for the import of petrol and diesel, is proving hazardous for spreading pollution in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases emissions like carbon dioxide and other poisonous gases being the root cause of many fatal and chronic diseases are deteriorating health of people. General public and car owners are also feeling the crunch of high prices of oil. Although CNG is becoming a favourite fuel, being comparatively a better fuel than fossil fuel, sometime it is not available at the pumping stations and owners of vehicles complain of low PSI. The prices of petrol and diesel have crossed all reasonable limits, which is badly impacting the purse and pocket of common man. The high prices of gasoline and diesel are also affecting market prices of essential commodities. It is the right time for the government to concentrate on solving energy/fuel problems and also pave a way for producing environment friendly and cheap fuel like ethanol and bio-fuel. As soon as we succeed in producing this clean and natural fuel, a handsome amount of money spent on environmental safety and ill-health of our people because of immense and hazardous pollution could be saved besides a major part of government's budget on the import of petrol, diesel and other POL products may be loosened.

According to Wikipedia, ethanol fuel (ethyl alcohol), which can be used as an alternative of gasoline, is widely used in cars in Brazil. It is because it is easy to manufacture and process and can be made from common materials, such as sugarcane. It is steadily becoming a promising alternative of gasoline throughout the world.

Amongst many advantages of ethanol one is that it is "renewable". The basic steps for large scale production of ethanol are microbial (yeast), fermentation of sugar, dehydration and denaturing (optional).


The top five ethanol producers in the world in 2006 were:

- U.S.

4856 U.S. billion gallons per year

- Brazil

4491 bgy

- China

1017 bgy

- India

0.502 bgy

- France

0.251 bgy

Brazil has the largest bio-fuel programme in the world. Ethanol provides 30 percent of the country's automotive fuel. The United States produces and consumes more ethanol fuel than any other country in the world. The consumption of ethanol is the largest in Europe, especially in Germany, Sweden, France and Spain. Europe produces about 90 percent of its consumption (2006). Germany produces 70 percent, Spain 60 percent and Sweden 50 percent respectively of their consumption.

China is promoting ethanol based fuel on pilot basis in 5 cities in its central and north eastern regions.

Pakistani bio-fuel energy scientists must draw inspiration from the above examples and come forward to produce ethanol from non-food crops to rescue the country from oil and energy crisis. It is reiterated that amongst the fast growing species, switch grass can be grown on land not suitable for other cash and food crops and yields high levels of ethanol per acre. What we need is will and skill to achieve positive and favourable results, even if that skill may be required to be obtained from skillful and technologically advanced countries of the world.