Interest in growing
switchgrassa native prairie grassfor ethanol is growing lately as
Agricultural Research Service studies led by geneticist Ken Vogel confirm its
feasability. Click the image for more information about it.
Scientists Study Feasibility of Switchgrass for
Energy Production By
Don Comis March
Two switchgrass plants per square foot the first year ensures a
successful bioenergy crop harvest in subsequent years. That's the threshold
level for success established by an economic study by the Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) and cooperators on 10
northern Plains farms in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Liebig, at the ARS
Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, N.D., worked on the study led
Vogel, a geneticist at the ARS
Forage and Bioenergy Research Unit at Lincoln, Neb.
As an expert in breeding and management of new, higher-yielding
varieties of switchgrasses best suited to ethanol conversion, Vogel
collaborates with many ARS labs in various regions of the country.
Liebig's contribution to the study was to quantify another potential
switchgrass benefit: soil carbon storage. The study is a cooperative project
with University of Nebraska
economist Richard Perrin.
Switchgrass is a native prairie grass long used for conservation
plantings and cattle feed in the United States. Interest in switchgrass ethanol
has intensified recently as the federal government gains confidence in its
potential as a bioenergy crop because of its wide adaptability and high yields
on marginal lands. The northern Plains region was chosen first because the
economics seemed most favorable there. Farmers can expect switchgrass yields to
be high enough there to produce 100 to 400 gallons of ethanol per acre with
Results from the main part of the study--the economics of growing
switchgrass for bioenergy--are promising. Those results will be issued in May.
Switchgrass can be converted to ethanol just as cornstalks can. It
also can be burned to produce electricity. Growing switchgrass for ethanol
could bring new industries to rural areas.
As a perennial plant, switchgrass has the advantage of not needing
annual planting and tillage. Skipping these can save soil and energy. It can
also reduce sediment and other pollutant losses to waterways.
threshold results are reported in the January issue of Crop Science magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.