Fifth Stop: Sustainability
by Margaret Broeren (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center) …Much more than a buzzword, “sustainable” means that trade-offs—social, environmental and economic factors—have been measured, modeled and validated against actual “boots on the ground data” measured at agricultural research stations and on Midwestern farms, says Randy Jackson, a grassland ecologist and UW-Madison professor of agronomy who co-leads GLBRC’s sustainability research group.
GLBRC research on bioenergy cropping systems, for example, has shown that such crops lead to everything from a reduced need for insecticide (due to an increase in beneficial insects) to increased bird and grassland diversity. “It’s really exciting that these systems offer the opportunity to actually improve both landscape management and ecosystem services, or benefits, that we get from the land,” says Jackson.
…According to a study conducted by GLBRC researchers at Michigan State University, farmers and policymakers should wait before converting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land to corn and soybean production.
…Alternatively, growing CRP grasses harvested for cellulosic ethanol would create no debt and provide immediate energy and climate mitigation benefits, he added.
Nationally, more than 30 million acres are set aside as CRP land, and they provide significant climate, wildlife and other conservation benefits, says Phil Robertson, a co-author and MSU professor of crop and soil sciences.
“Growing CRP grasses rather than using the land for corn or corn-soybean production could maintain these benefits indefinitely while providing a valuable bioenergy feedstock,” Robertson says. “It could be a win-win for farmers and the environment once a market for cellulosic biofuel develops.”
…A GLBRC team is working to solve biofuel supply chain issues by exploring a new intermediate structure for gathering, processing and converting biomass into cellulosic biofuels. The proposed structures, called Regional Biomass Processing Depots (RBPDs), could improve both the economics and the sustainability of the biomass supply chain by keeping a portion of pretreatment and processing closer to the farm. READ MORE