Making grasses more digestible promises improved feed for ruminants and better biomass for biofuel production, with economic and environmental benefits for both.
Plant biomass contains considerable calorific value but most of it makes up robust cell walls, an unappetising evolutionary advantage that helped grasses to survive foragers and prosper for more than 60 million years.
The trouble is that this robustness still makes them less digestible in the rumen of cows and sheep and difficult to process in bioenergy refineries for ethanol fuel.
Abandoned sugarcane plantations across the tropics could offer us a realistic, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.
Ethanol produced from sugarcane has been one of the most successful short-term strategies to date in decarbonising energy supply, particularly in Brazil where the sugarcane ethanol system results in just 14% of the CO2 emissions of petroleum. In 2012 Brazil became the first country in which more bioethanol was used in cars than petroleum.