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What is a Grass Station?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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”Grass station” is a term which is meant to describe a hypothetical location which provides fuels made from biomass. The term was popularized in 2007, when it became the Webster's Dictionary word of the year; the editors of the dictionary claimed that they chose the word because they found it an interesting example of the ways in which English can be repurposed. The term is obviously a pun on “gas station,” a fueling station which provides conventional fuels derived from petrochemicals.

The “grass” in grass station can be any sort of biomass, but many people think specifically of switch grass, which entered the public consciousness in 2006 during a State of the Union Address by American President George Bush. Bush referred to switch grass as a potential source of cheap, renewable alternative fuel which could be used to reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Residents of the American Midwest were already quite familiar with the plant, which is used as a source of livestock fodder since it grows quickly and requires little maintenance.

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The concept of a grass station might seem a bit silly and perhaps overly optimistic, but it speaks to a growing trend in the early 21st century. The first decade of the 21st century marked an increasing awareness among ordinary citizens about sustainability and environmental issues, and terms like “carbon neutral,” “locavore,” and “green” began to be bandied about with great frequency. Numerous biomass fuels such as diesel developed from corn began to enter a period of high demand as a result of increasing consumer awareness about the problems with petroleum based fuels.

The offerings at a grass station could vary widely, depending on available fuels, demand, and technology. Ethanol fuels like that which can be derived from switch grass would presumably be on the menu, along with various forms of biodiesel. Other alternative fuels like hydrogen or solar powered charging stations for electric cars could potentially be available as well, ensuring that motorists would have access to the fuels that they need.

The primary advantage of alternative fuels potentially served up at a grass station is that they are renewable, and they can be less polluting than petroleum based fuels. Alternative fuels have their own environmental and social cost, of course. For example, when demand for biodiesel rose dramatically in 2007, prices of corn tortillas in Mexico began to skyrocket, as supplies of corn began to be diverted to biofuel production. This led to food security problems in rural Mexico, where corn tortillas are a staple food.

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Mor
Post 3

@umbra21 - Biofuel isn't really a new technology. I mean, when you think about it, even petrol could be considered a biofuel, as it was originally made from dead plants and animals.

It's a good technology to have on hold, in my opinion. Even though I don't think that we are that close to running out of oil, I do think that it will happen eventually, or at least that it will become more and more rare.

Having something in the wings which can definitely be used for fuel, is a good idea. I heard recently they can even fly airplanes using biofuel, so if we suddenly did run out of oil, at least we wouldn't be grounded for very long.

umbra21
Post 2

@irontoenail - Personally I think the term "grass station" shows that we're going about this all wrong. There's no need to use up more land to create biofuels.

There are many other options that are only just getting explored now. People could be using all the food waste they generate in cities to create biofuel, for example. At the moment there are several cities, mostly in Europe I believe, that have trains that run on biofuel made from household waste and old cooking oil.

That would clear out our landfills as well.

And they could also make biofuel using algae. Algae is easy to grow (in fact, it's difficult to stop it from growing) and basically all it needs is water

and sunlight to grow.

Biofuel is just a new idea that is still being worked out, but I don't think it's entirely useless. I'm kind of hoping that electric cars will become more of a viable option because they are even cleaner, but perhaps a combination of the two will be the answer in the end.

irontoenail
Post 1

That is the worst thing about biofuel, that we currently don't have the capacity to provide enough biomass to make it worthwhile.

If you started growing something, say corn, to be turned into biofuel, you'll be using fields that were previously needed for something else.

For the most part, we are already using all the farmland that is available to us. In order to get more farmland, we'd have to cut down more forests, which is not exactly what the environmentalists had in mind when they came up with biofuel.

Either that, or start going without the meat and grain we're used to, because they all take massive amounts of land to produce.

Biofuel is an interesting idea, at a small scale, and certainly I think if a farm can use leftovers to produce it, more power to them, but on a large scale, it's just not feasible.

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