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Title: Biomass-bioenergy crops in the United States: A changing paradigm

item Johnson, Jane
item Gesch, Russell - Russ
item Jaradat, Abdullah
item Mitchell, Robert - Rob
item Reicosky, Donald
item Wilhelm, Wallace

Submitted to: The Americas Journal of Plant Science and Biotechnology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/20/2007
Publication Date: 6/29/2007
Citation: Johnson, J.M., Coleman, M.D., Gesch, R.W., Jaradat, A.A., Mitchell, R., Reicosky, D.C., Wilhelm, W.W. 2007. Biomass-bioenergy crops in the United States: A changing paradigm. The Americas Journal of Plant Science and Biotechnology. 1(1):1-28.

Interpretive Summary: In the United States and elsewhere in the world, there is a shift in the type of energy used. Increasingly, renewable energy sources (e.g., wind and ethanol) are supplementing or replacing the use of fossil fuel (e.g., oil and coal). There are several reasons causing the change: 1) limited oil supplies, 2) increasing transportation fuel demands, and 3) political instability in the countries holding the major oil reserves. To reach the goals for reducing imported oil will require the use of several different renewable energy sources, including ethanol from grain and from cellulose, biodiesel and others. This review focuses on plant-based products that are or will be available from the agricultural and forestry sectors. Plant-based products includes ethanol from corn grain and from cellulose, which is found in all plants. Corn stalks or wheat straw may be among the first plant materials to be used to make ethanol. Grasses such as switchgrass or trees such as poplars also can be used. Other plant-based fuels include soydiesel and syngas. The pros and cons of growing and harvesting plants for energy are discussed. The benefits include reducing the need to burn fossil fuels, which in turn can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also plant-based products are renewable and domestic. This review provides guidance on how to manage production and harvest of plant-based products so the soil is not eroded or soil and water quality degraded. This information will educate scientists, industry, producers and the general public including policy-makers of the benefits and risks associated with plant-based energy. As a society, we need to conserve energy and resources, improve energy conversion efficiencies, integrate technologies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, improve carbon sequestration, and provide food and fuel for a growing world.

Technical Abstract: The world energy paradigm is changing from one based on petroleum to one based on a mixture of energy platforms. This change is precipitated by finite petroleum reserves, an expanding global demand, and political instability in areas with major petroleum reserves. The mixed energy platform will include an array of renewable energy sources. The agricultural and forestry sectors have the potential to provide several plant-based products. Corn (Zea mays L) grain for ethanol has long been utilized at least in some locations. Soydiesel is an expanding market. Technology is rapidly advancing to utilize crop biomass, perennial grasses, woody perennials and forest products for the production of ethanol via a cellulosic platform and/or utilize pyrolysis to generate syngas and other products/co-products. Emerging specialty crops have potential to supply feedstock as well. Altering fundamental aspects of plant growth, development, and responses to biotic and abiotic stresses and the opportunities to increase productivity and conversion-process efficiencies are strategies to expand biomass availability and usage. As this new platform emerges, cellulosic ethanol production brings new concerns; competing uses for crop or crop products, co-products, competition for land base, and management strategies to protect the soil, water, and climate resources. As the energy paradigm shifts the balance among competing needs will be critical to achieve sustainable food, fiber, and energy while protecting the soil resource and the environment. This emphasizes avoiding potential negative environmental consequences of new bioenergy technologies and presents strategies on how this may be achieved. [REAP Publication]