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

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
EmployeesAsmark Institute Dedicates New Training Center To Ford West
August 6, 2014
The Asmark Institute plans to recognize the retired industry leader's years of service to the fertilizer industry at the new state-of-the-art facility in Owensboro, KY. Read More
LegislationUSDA: Quick Implementation Of Disaster Assistance Programs A ‘Top Priority’
July 9, 2014
USDA has processed 106,000 payments to farmers in 40 states across the country who suffered livestock and grazing losses between Oct. 2011 and passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. Read More

Trending Articles

Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. 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
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More

Latest News

Syngenta
Crop InputsSyngenta Launches Plant Breeding Academy
October 1, 2014
Syngenta announces the release of its Breeding Academy, a global initiative designed to enable the continued development of scientists at Syngenta and beyond. Read More
FertilizerFertilizer Outlook And Technology Conference Set For No…
September 30, 2014
Conference participants can expect to gain perspective on the outlook for agriculture and major fertilizer materials and inputs from industry experts. Read More
MicronutrientsVerdesian Acquires Micronutrient Supplier
September 30, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has acquired QC Corp., a producer and supplier of granular and dry micronutrients and ferrous sulfate products. Read More
Eric SfiligojHearing From Young Ag Voices
September 30, 2014
Potential future leaders in ag retail had the chance to shine at the recent Mid America CropLife Association meeting. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
September 30, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Appoints New Chief Operating Officer
September 29, 2014
Jon Parr will succeed retiring COO John Atkin at the end of the year. Read More
CropLife 100South Dakota Wheat Growers To Add Grain-Agronomy Facili…
September 26, 2014
Planned to be constructed in Kennebec, the facility will be located along the soon-to-be rehabilitated line of heavy-rail service from Chamberlain to Presho. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Vice President Appointments
September 25, 2014
Two individuals have been appointed Vice President positions on the GROWMARK executive team. Read More
FertilizerFertilizer Industry Organizations Join Global Alliance …
September 25, 2014
The Fertilizer Institute, the International Plant Nutrition Institute and the International Fertilizer Industry Association are encouraging the industry to promote the proper use of fertilizer products to minimize their environmental impact. Read More
Precision AgARA Organized Precision Forum Hits Capitol Hill
September 24, 2014
The Coalition for the Advancement of Precision Agriculture (CAPA) hosted its inaugural Precision Ag Forum, Sept. 18, in Washington, D.C. Read More
FertilizerFactors To Consider When Placing Fertilizer With Seed
September 24, 2014
The type of crop, fertilizer source, row spacing and soil environment all affect how much fertilizer can be safely applied with seed. Read More
FertilizerSidedressing Manure Into Corn Has Promising Results
September 24, 2014
Applying manure to growing crops can boost yields, reduce nutrient losses and give livestock producers another window of time to apply manure to farm fields. Read More
FertilizerWhen To Sample Manure For Analysis
September 24, 2014
Because the goal is to collect a sample that represents the manure actually being applied, the best time to sample is during loading or field application. Here's why. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Faces Second Lawsuit Over Agrisure Viptera Cor…
September 23, 2014
A second company has sued Syngenta AG over sales of genetically modified corn seed not approved by China. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Field Guide For Farmers Expanded
September 23, 2014
Farmers interested in planting cover crops to improve soil health now have an updated and expanded resource in the second edition of the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide. Read More
HerbicidesArysta LifeScience Launches Contest For Wheat Growers
September 23, 2014
The Flush after Flush Photo Finish contest encourages farmers across the U.S. to participate through Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #FlushAfterFlush. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Confirms Merger Of Equals Discussions Wit…
September 23, 2014
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with Yara International regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
StewardshipProgram To Examine Ag-Related Practices, Policies To Pr…
September 22, 2014
A panel discussion on October 14 will include a significant discussion on key issues and solutions related to all aspects of harmful algal blooms. Read More