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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #302401

Title: Opportunities for grasslands as biofuel feedstock

item Adler, Paul

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/20/2014
Publication Date: 3/14/2014
Citation: Adler, P.R. 2014. Opportunities for grasslands as biofuel feedstock. In A. Glaser (Ed.) America’s Grasslands Conference: The Future of Grasslands in a Changing Landscape. Proceedings of the 2nd Biennial Conference on the Conservation of America’s Grasslands. August 12-14, 2013, Manhattan, KS. p. 90-92.

Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.

Technical Abstract: Historically, grasslands composed of native species have been of natural origin or established as part of a conservation program such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). More recently, dedicated grasslands composed of native and nonnative perennial grass species are being established to produce feedstock for bioenergy. We have studied the yield potential, environmental impacts, life cycle greenhouse gas impacts and abatement costs of conservation grasslands, and dedicated grasslands composed of native and nonnative species as bioenergy feedstocks. We found a large diversity of plant species on CRP lands in the northeastern US planted with warm season grasses, and a large range of biomass yields. Conservation grasslands with higher numbers of plant species had lower biomass yields compared with sites with fewer species. Low diversity grasslands which include a mixture of the tall native C4 prairie grass could have greater yield stability and productivity and we have found biomass yields to increase with their abundance. In Pennsylvania, much of the marginal land is poorly drained and switchgrass yields are similar on prime and poorly drained marginal lands. Miscanthus has been shown to produce large amounts of biomass without application of N and consequently when used as a feedstock for ethanol production can results in a biofuel with a global warming intensity 25% lower than switchgrass. In an analysis of abatement costs of biomass feedstock from marginal lands in the NE, we found that densified biomass was a cheaper fuel than fuel oil, potentially saving consumers in NE US $2.3 and $3.9 billion annually, displaces twice as much petroleum as using it to replace gasoline, and is a cheaper GHG mitigation strategy reducing GHGs at a cost savings of $10-11.6 billion dollars annually by targeting the use of biomass to replace fuel oil rather than electricity in the NE US, as promoted in RPS policy.