By Cameron Chai
A study conducted by researchers atthe University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that a tropical and temperate maize hybrid has potential to produce biofuels such as ethanol from biomass.
The ethanol production capability of the maize is equal or higher than the capability of grain harvested from existing commercial maize hybrids. Thus, the tropical and temperate maize hybrid is seen as a new challenging source in the bioenergy industry.
Professor of Crop Physiology, Dr. Frederick Below stated that their maize hybrid has produced biomass, which is 15% to 20% higher than the commercial grain hybrids.
To perform the study, the team has chosen plants with various genetic combinations that resulted from a hybridization of tropical and temperate maize. Compared to temperate parent plants, the tropical plant has a very longer growing season in the Midwest. With the combination of two varieties, temperate maize enhances the positive features of tropical maize such as drought tolerance and reduces the destructive characteristics like pest and disease vulnerability. Hence, the combination of plants leads to the formation of hybrid maize that grows larger and collects more stalk sugars compared to conventional grain hybrids. These are critical factors for high ethanol production.
The team found that the hybrids need smaller quantity of fertilizers like nitrogen, unlike commercial grain hybrids, and the ethanol could be made from the plant material. This makes the hybrid maize more energy efficient and a sustainable solution. Currently, the hybrid is in its initial stages of development.