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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

2012 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
This regional CAP project will develop sustainable bioenergy production systems for the Midwest or North Central States of the USA based on perennial grasses grown on marginal croplands in the region. The Bioenergy CAP project has eight different components. ARS scientists in the Northern Plains Area, Midwest Area, and Northeast Area are participating in two components “Feedstock Development” or breeding and “Sustainable Production Systems” or management. Specific objectives are to develop improved cultivars of switchgrass, big bluestem, indiangrass, and native legumes for the North Central USA for conversion to liquid fuels in biorefineries with an emphasis on pyrolysis. Improved management practices will be developed to optimize biomass yields and feedstock quality while reducing economic costs and inputs and enhancing the environmental benefits of utilizing perennial grasses in production systems on marginal lands.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Feedstock development work will be conducted by ARS-Lincoln and ARS-Madison. Breeding work at Lincoln will develop improved grasses and legumes for the central latitudes of the USA while Madison will develop improved grasses for the northern latitudes. Current work on switchgrass for biomass energy and forage breeding of big bluestem, indiangrass, and native legume will be expanded to include breeding for biomass energy. Sorghum will be used as a model species to test effect of changes in biomass quality on pyrolysis yields. Feedstock production work will have system analyses trials in which large plots (about 0.5 hectare) will be used to obtain sustainability information including C sequestration, greenhouse gas, economic, and system productivity information. Factor analysis trials will have small plot studies that will be used to address specific problem areas such as fertilizer rates, harvest dates herbicides, and other management variables.

3. Progress Report:
This project contributes to the base-funded parent by providing additional resources to assess the effects of biochar on corn grain and stover production and soil properties. The Iowa State University (ISU) funds originate from a larger multi-state, multi-institution Coordinated Agricultural Program project and during the past year most effort was directed toward sampling soil and plant materials on the long-term field 70/71 study at the ISU Agronomy and the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Research Center (ABERC) and planning for an additional application of biochar following the 2012 cropping season. The new application of char will be applied to the same plots that received 4 tons/acre of biochar in the autumn of 2007, but this time the application rate will be approximately 15 tons/acre. This rate was chosen based on some cooperative research at another central Iowa location that showed no adverse crop growth effects at biochar rates up to 50 tons/acre. The higher biochar application rate will also provide additional field data to help determine if char applications are effective in mitigating potential allelopathic effects often encountered when growing continuous corn. The primary beneficiaries of this research are researchers and bioenergy personnel evaluating the pyrolysis platform for biomass conversion.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 06/21/2017
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