Researchers try to create fuel from grass

Tuesday, February 19th 2008, 7:38 pm
By: News 9

By Gan Matthews, NEWS 9

The future of Oklahoma's energy economy may be in the grass.

Business leaders and researchers said they think natural gas and biofuels are replacing oil as the staple of the state's energy industry. Researchers are investigating how to make fuel from naturally growing switchgrass.

"The basins that produced oil and gas in Oklahoma have matured over the years, but gas has really come to the forefront," said Steve Hadden with Devon Energy Corp.

In 2006, Oklahoma produced about 60 million barrels of oil. In the same year the state produced 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

State Energy Secretary David Fleischaker predicts besides oil and gas, Oklahoma's energy future will include unconventional fuels.

"Oklahoma, I think, will be the home of a very substantial biofuel industry that'll bring wealth to our rural areas, and to our farmers and ranchers," he said.

About $40 million is earmarked for biofuels research at several locations in the state including the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore.

Researchers at the foundation are focusing on switchgrass. The plant grows naturally in Oklahoma. Researchers want to help farmers grow more.

"There's been enough research done on a national and international basis that tells us we can produce a biofuel from switchgrass, and we can combine it with gasoline and provide a fuel that will run our combustible engines in this country," foundation President Michael Cawley said.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry is asking legislators to appropriate $10 million more for biofuels research before the current session ends.

Several predict wind power will also play a greater role in Oklahoma's electric power generation in the future, officials said.

Corporation Commissioner Jeff Cloud said nuclear power should be in our future.

"We're going to need 45 percent more electricity in this country by the year 2020," he said. "There are already 104 nuclear plants in this country, which provide 20 percent of the electricity generator already."

A nuclear power plant may prove to be too expensive an investment for Oklahoma, officials said.