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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ECOLOGICALLY-BASED SOIL MANAGEMENT FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION Title: Future testing opportunities to ensure sustainability of the biofuels industry

Authors
item Karlen, Douglas
item Kerr, Brian

Submitted to: Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 10, 2010
Publication Date: January 31, 2012
Citation: Karlen, D.L., Kerr, B.J. 2012. Future testing opportunities to ensure sustainability of the biofuels industry. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis. 43:(1-2)36-46. DOI:10.1080/00103624.2012.631410.

Interpretive Summary: The intensity of biofuel research and development throughout the U.S. has increased exponentially in response to escalating petroleum costs, concerns regarding political stability in countries supplying petroleum to the U.S., and passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007. As the biofuel industry matures there will be many opportunities for soil and plant analysts to provide services that will help ensure the industry grows in a sustainable manner. This conference presentation manuscript summarizes several opportunities that we envision will be created. Examples include monitoring soil and plant nutrient status and removal, overall quality of the soil resources used for feedstock production, quality of the feedstock itself, and composition and quality of the products and co-products produced through various conversion processes. This information will be useful to soil and plant analysis firms, consultants, extension personnel, owners and operators of biomass conversion facilities, scientists, and producers. It will also help policymakers gain a better understanding of the complexity and multiple aspects of an integrated biofuel production system.

Technical Abstract: For the Soil and Plant Analysis Community, development and expansion of biofuels will create many opportunities to provide a wide variety of analytical services. Our objective is to explore potential areas where those services could be marketed to support sustainable development of biofuels. One of the first will be to provide soil fertility and plant nutrition information for sustainable feedstock production. Chemical, physical, and biological indicators of soil quality should also be monitored and interpreted using tools such as the Soil Management Assessment Framework (SMAF) to ensure soil resources can continue to meet global food, feed, and fiber demands as well as the new demands for biofuels. Feedstock sugar profile information will be needed to help manage conversion processes, calculate economic drivers such as the minimum ethanol selling price (MESP), and determine suitability for other bioproducts. There will also be an increasing need to evaluate a variety of co-products created by corn (Zea mays) milling, soybean [Glycine max Merr.) processing, and the fledgling lignocellulosic conversion processes. For co-products produced from wet- or dry-corn milling and dry-grind ethanol production, accurate and efficient analysis and digestibility of fiber components [neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), and total dietary fiber (TDF)], amino acids (lysine, trypotophan, and methionine), fatty acids, and minerals (phosphorus and sulfur) will be needed. In addition, a capacity to accurately and rapidly detect contamination by mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, zearalenone, and fumonisisn, or the presence of antibiotics, such as penicillin or virginiamycin, could potentially be important. For the biodiesel industry, methanol concentrations in crude glycerin must be reduced to meet FDA guidelines and quantified to ensure this co-product is safe for use in livestock feeds. Finally, monitoring for several processes and co-products associated with pyrolysis, a thermochemical platform for biomass conversion to bio-oils, bio-char, and other products, will be needed. We conclude that sustainable development of biofuel industries will have many positive benefits for soils, plant and animal production systems, and the analysts who will provide analytical services for monitoring all aspects of the biofuels industry.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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