A probabilistic analysis of the switchgrass ethanol cycle

Tadeusz W. Patzek*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The switchgrass-driven process for producing ethanol has received much popularattention. However, a realistic analysis of this process indicates three serious limitations: (a)If switchgrass planted on 140 million hectares (the entire area of active U.S. cropland) wereused as feedstock and energy source for ethanol production, the net ethanol yield wouldreplace on average about 20% of today's gasoline consumption in the U.S. (b) Becausenonrenewable resources are required to produce ethanol from switchgrass, the incrementalgas emissions would be on average 55 million tons of equivalent carbon dioxide per yearto replace just 10% of U.S. automotive gasoline. (c) In terms of delivering electrical ormechanical power, ethanol from 1 hectare (10,000 m2) of switchgrass is equivalent, onaverage, to 30 m2 of low-efficiency photovoltaic cells. This analysis suggests that investingtoward more efficient and durable solar cells, and batteries, may be more promising thaninvesting in a process to convert switchgrass to ethanol.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3158-3194
Number of pages37
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cellulose
  • Conservation law
  • GHG emissions
  • Monte carlo
  • Yield

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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