Study Shows Energy Gain In Switchgrass Ethanol

Switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced 540 percent more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol, according to estimates from a large on-farm study by researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Results from the five-year study involving fields on farms in three states highlights the prairie grass’ potential as a biomass fuel source that yields significantly more energy than is consumed in production and conversion into cellulosic ethanol, said Ken Vogel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service geneticist in UNL’s agronomy and horticulture department.

The study involved switchgrass fields on farms in Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is the largest study to date examining the net energy output, greenhouse gas emissions, biomass yields, agricultural inputs and estimated cellulosic ethanol production from switchgrass grown and managed for biomass fuel.

"This clearly demonstrates that switchgrass is not only energy efficient, but can be used in a renewable biofuel economy to reduce reliance of fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance rural economies," Vogel said.

The joint USDA-ARS and Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources study also found greenhouse gas emissions from cellulosic ethanol made from switchgrass were 94 percent lower than estimated greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline production.
Researchers reported their findings in this week’s (Jan.7-11) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research paper is available online.

In a biorefinery, switchgrass biomass can be broken down into sugars including glucose and xylose that can be fermented into ethanol similar to corn. Grain from corn and other annual cereal grains, such as sorghum, are now primary sources for U.S. ethanol production.

In the future, perennial crops, such as switchgrass, as well as crop residues and forestry biomass could be developed as major cellulosic ethanol sources that could potentially displace 30 percent of current U.S. petroleum consumption, Vogel said. Technology to convert biomass into cellulosic ethanol is being developed and is now at the development stage where small commercial scale biorefineries are beginning to be built with scale-up support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

This study involved 10 fields of 15- to 20-acres each with four in Nebraska near Atkinson, Crofton, Lawrence and Douglas; four in South Dakota near Highmore, Bristol, Huron and Ethan; and two in North Dakota near Streeter and Munich. Trials began in 2000 and 2001 and continued for five years. Farmers were paid for their work under contract with UNL and documented all production operations, agricultural inputs and biomass yields. The researchers used this information to determine the net energy estimates.

Switchgrass grown in this study yielded 93 percent more biomass per acre and an estimated 93 percent more net energy yield than previously estimated in a study done elsewhere of planted prairies in Minnesota that received low agricultural inputs, Vogel said. The study demonstrates that biomass energy from perennial bioenergy crops such as switchgrass can produce significantly more energy per acre than low input systems. Less land will be needed for energy crops if higher yields can be obtained.

Researchers point out in their study that plant biomass remaining after ethanol production could be used to provide the energy needed for the distilling process and other power requirements of the biorefinery. This results in a high net energy value for ethanol produced from switchgrass biomass. In contrast, corn grain ethanol biorefineries need to use natural gas or other sources of energy for the conversion process.

In this study, switchgrass managed as a bioenergy crop produced estimated ethanol yields per acre similar to those from corn grown in the same states and years based on statewide average grain yields.

"However, caution should be used in making direct ethanol yield comparisons with cellulosic sources and corn grains because corn grain conversion technology is mature, whereas cellulosic conversion efficiency technology is based on an estimated value," Vogel said.

Vogel said that he does not expect switchgrass to replace corn or other crops on Class 1 farm land. He and his colleagues are developing it for use on marginal, highly erodible lands similar to that currently in the Conservation Reserve Programs. All the fields in this study met the criteria that would have qualified for this program. Using a conservation cellulosic conversion value, researchers found that switchgrass grown on the marginal fields produced an average of 300 gallons of ethanol per acre compared to average ethanol yields of 350 gallons per acre for corn for the same three states.

The researchers point out that this was a base-line study. The switchgrass cultivars used in this study were developed for use in pastures. New higher yielding cultivars are under development for specific use in bioenergy production systems.

Vogel has led research to develop switchgrass cultivars for biomass production. The UNL-USDA team also has developed recommendations for how best to manage switchgrass to maximize biomass yields.

Future research will include further studies of improving management practices including work on improving establishment and harvesting methods, improving biomass yield, and improving conversion efficiency and net and total energy yields, Vogel said.

Six cellulosic biorefineries that are being co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy also are in the works across the U.S. that should be completed over the next few years. These plants are expected to produce more than 130 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

(Source: Plant Management Network)
 

Topics:

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And Then Some
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More
StewardshipA Multi-Layered Approach To Water Quality
October 6, 2014
Illinois event highlights research and technology designed to better monitor and improve water quality — and the benefits of cooperative, coordinated effort. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
ManagementRussia Bans U.S. And EU Ag Product Imports In Ukraine Sanctions Battle
August 7, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned the import of agricultural goods from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. Read More

Trending Articles

Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

InsecticidesValent U.S.A., MGK Form Marketing Agreement
October 24, 2014
Valent has formed an agreement with Minneapolis-based MGK to manage the marketing and sales of MGK’s crop protection line of insect control products within the U.S. beginning April 1, 2015. Read More
StewardshipFlorida’s 4R Advocate Keeps Improving
October 24, 2014
Florida farmer Alan Jones uses the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship as the core of his fertility program, which allows him to maximize production and keep costs in check. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Named One Of The World’s Best Multinational …
October 23, 2014
Monsanto ranked No. 8 in the world’s largest annual study of workplace excellence that identifies the top 25 best multinational companies in terms of workplace culture. Read More
Crop InputsArysta Hires Former Agri-Chem, CPS Employee For Delta S…
October 23, 2014
New Territory Sales Manager Mark Peel’s primary role will focus on working with growers regarding fungicides in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Appointments In Plant Food Division
October 22, 2014
GROWMARK, Inc. has announced the three key staff changes in its Plant Food Division. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Appoints New VP Of Finance And Risk Management
October 22, 2014
Wade Mittelstadt has been named GROWMARK Vice President, Financial and Risk Mangement, effective December 1, 2014. Read More
FungicidesEPA Approves BASF In-Furrow Corn Fungicide
October 22, 2014
Field trials show Xanthion In-furrow fungicide provides more rapid emergence, extended residual control and improved seedling health than untreated crops. Read More
EquipmentAgraScout App Available At No Cost To Universities
October 21, 2014
AgraScout, a fast and easy to use mobile crop scouting app, is now available at no cost to University students, Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Program To Provide Relief To Farmers Affe…
October 21, 2014
The USDA has implemented a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. Read More
ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Terminates Merger Discussions With Yara I…
October 21, 2014
CF Industries Holdings and Yara International have terminated their discussions regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More