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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: BIOLOGICALLY AND ECOLOGICALLY BASED KNOWLEDGE FOR INTEGRATED WEED MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Location: Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit

Title: Exotic grasses as biofuels—the concerns

Authors
item Raghu, S - IL NATURAL HISTORY SUR
item DAVIS, ADAM

Submitted to: Illinois Natural Steward
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: January 11, 2007
Publication Date: April 25, 2007
Citation: Raghu, S., Davis, A.S. 2007. Exotic grasses as biofuels—the concerns. Illinois Natural Steward. 16:30-32.

Interpretive Summary: Non-native (alien, introduced, non-indigenous) plants have served as valuable crops throughout history. Increasingly, research has been directed towards identifying new biofuel crops, including non-native species, as sources of energy. Several plant traits deemed characteristics of an ideal biomass crop are also features commonly found among invasive grasses: low energy into maintenance relative to the production of energy-rich biomass; efficient use of light, water and nutrients; C4 photosynthesis; nutrient translocation to storage organs during the non-growing season; and perennial growth. Some candidate species for biofuels, such as Miscanthus and giant reed, have many of these same traits. Introducing some plants as biofuel sources may be safe, but we will only know for sure after ecological risk-benefit analyses, which are already required for the introduction of other potentially beneficial species. Such analyses will require agronomists and invasion biologists to collaboratively assess ecological risks prior to introducing potentially beneficial crops, or in carefully quarantined field plots, to ensure that we do not inadvertently add biofuels to the already raging invasive species fire.

Technical Abstract: Non-native (alien, introduced, non-indigenous) plants have served as valuable crops throughout history. Increasingly, research has been directed towards identifying new biofuel crops, including non-native species, as sources of energy. Several plant traits deemed characteristics of an ideal biomass crop are also features commonly found among invasive grasses: low energy into maintenance relative to the production of energy-rich biomass; efficient use of light, water and nutrients; C4 photosynthesis; nutrient translocation to storage organs during the non-growing season; and perennial growth. Some candidate species for biofuels, such as Miscanthus x. giganteus and Arundo donax, have many of these same traits. Introducing some plants as biofuel sources may be safe, but this assurance will only be evident following explicit agronomic and ecological risk-benefit analyses, which are already mandatory for the introduction of other potentially beneficial species. Such analyses will require agronomists and invasion biologists to collaboratively assess ecological risks prior to introducing potentially beneficial crops, or in carefully quarantined field plots, to ensure that we do not inadvertently add biofuels to the already raging invasive species fire.

Last Modified: 9/29/2014
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