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Study Says Farms Should Ready for Cellulosic Ethanol

When plant material besides corn becomes a major source of ethanol, farming will change on a grand scale, according to a new report.

When ethanol production requires more plant matter than just corn, farming will have to change dramatically, a new study says.

The study, released Tuesday and contracted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, is called "Achieving Sustainable Production of Agriculture Biomass for Biorefinery Feedstock.

Research, much of it government-funded, aims to find a way to use not just corn kernels, but also residue from cornstalks as raw products used to make ethanol in the U.S. Thomas Dorr, USDA Under Secretary, says that cellulosic ethanol is close to "crossing the commercialization threshold."

The U.S. government is backing biomass energy production with millions of dollars in promotion. The Bush administration has outlined a goal to replace 30% of U.S. petroleum with biomass-based ethanol, a figure which Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns thinks is possible by 2030.

Jame Hettenhaus, an analyst contracted as part of the BIO report, says companies are already investing in way to use post-harvest material for ethanol production. The first farm residues to be used in ethanol production commercially will be corn stover and wheat and rice straw, Hettenhaus says.

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