Oklahoma State University


Corn as a Biofuel Crop

Corn (Zea mays L.) is one of the major grain crops in the world and the only one native to the Americas.  It has been a staple crop throughout much of the U.S. for many decades and its acreage is concentrated in the Midwest.  While much of the corn acreage in the U.S. is for ethanol production, it has primarily been used as livestock and for human consumption.  Sweeteners made from corn find their way into thousands of foods.

Production of ethanol from corn grain is not currently considered to be energy efficient by many.  Using it in an increased role as a biofuel will make the many products that come from corn more expensive and/or scarce.  In additional high corn yields come from the best agricultural lands in the country and this direct competition for land is not ideal for a biofuel crop.

Corn stover (stems, leaves, shucks, and cobs left after grain is removed) could be used as a biofuel crop via cellulosic conversion to ethanol.  This process is in development and the economics of the conversion is still unknown.  Another red flag about using stover is that soil will be left nearly bare if it is removed, leading to increased soil erosion potential.

Tropical corn may be used for the sugar in its stalks with little refinement. Tropical corn varieties produced and stored sugar in the stems rather than converting sugar to starches in the case of corn grain, or cellulose as in switchgrass or corn stover.  The juices can be converted to ethanol in a relatively straight forward process.  It is possible that at least part of the conversion to ethanol could be done on the farm; thus, avoiding some of the transportation costs.

Web sites about corn as a biofuel crop:




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