IMPROVED FORAGE AND BIOENERGY PLANTS AND TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE CENTRAL USA
Location: Grain, Forage & Bioenergy Research
Title: The feasibility of switchgrass for biofuel production
Submitted to: Biofuels Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 9, 2011
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Citation: Mitchell, R., Vogel, K.P., Uden, D.R. 2012. The feasibility of switchgrass for biofuel production. Biofuels Journal. 3:47-59.
Interpretive Summary: A major impediment to the adoption of biomass energy production is the concern for the timely and long-term availability of biomass to the biorefinery. Specific questions for switchgrass include the amount of land area that must be planted to switchgrass to meet the demands of the biorefineries, how soon switchgrass can be supplied for a single biorefinery and for multiple biorefineries, the ability of seed producers to supply adequate amounts of seed to farmers, the ability of farmers to produce and deliver biomass to the biorefinery in a timely manner, as well as continuing questions on economics, storage, transportation, and conversion. Answers are now available to many of these questions for switchgrass in the Midwest and Great Plains based on research completed during the last 20 years. This research has included work on breeding and genetics, ethanol potential, establishment, field-scale production economics, weed control, harvest and fertility management, documentation of the value of ecosystem services, energy balance, and entomology, as well as compiling best management practices for establishment and management. Research has demonstrated clearly that switchgrass for bioenergy is productive, protective of the environment, and profitable for the farmer in many regions of the USA.
Switchgrass research has been conducted cooperatively by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Nebraska since the mid-1930’s with a primary focus on its development as a bioenergy crop since 1990. Additional research on switchgrass as a biomass energy crop also has been performed at other at several institutions. Significant progress has been made in switchgrass breeding and genetics, molecular genetics, establishment, fertility management, production economics, production energetics, harvest and storage management, ecosystem services, and ethanol yield. A complete field-validated biomass production system has been developed for the Midwest and Central Plains. Even with favorable economic and sustainability results from field trials, switchgrass for bioenergy has not been adopted on a large scale. Lack of adoption likely is due to farmers not wanting to plant switchgrass without a viable bioenergy market, and biorefineries not wanting to build without a viable long-term feedstock supply already in place. Answers to 22 of the most pressing questions concerning the feasibility of growing and supplying switchgrass to the biorefinery are provided based on research completed to date. Production, economic, net energy, and sustainability research completed to date fully supports the use of switchgrass as a biomass energy crop.