Finding the Right Biofuels for the Southeast: A Range of Alternatives
(US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service) …Of the five regions, the Southeast has the greatest natural capacity in the continental United States, with sufficient sunshine, soils, water, and other natural resources to produce more than 10 billion gallons of advanced biofuels each year, nearly a third of the 36 billion-gallon production target.
The goal for researchers is to develop high-yield bioenergy crops and production methods that minimize use of water and fertilizers and are compatible with current land uses. The systems have to be cost-effective for both growers and biofuel producers. Researchers also want to enhance environmental quality by increasing carbon sequestration and reduce the amount of nitrogen runoff to waterways.
…ARS researchers working in Georgia, Louisiana, Nebraska, Hawaii, and elsewhere, with expertise in a wide range of scientific fields, are working toward developing a range of biomass crops for biofuels. They are finding that each crop offers a different set of challenges—and possible rewards. Work by Anderson and others, for instance, shows that napiergrass(Pennisetum purpureum) and varieties of sugarcane known as “energy cane” (Saccharum sp.) may work best in southern portions of Georgia and the rest of the region’s southern tier. By comparison, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a biomass crop being developed in the Midwest, is more cold tolerant than subtropical grasses and works better than energy cane in more northern areas of the Southeast.
Much of the USDA research effort in the South is focused on energy cane, napiergrass, and sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor). With its expertise, extensive network of university and industry partners, and vast collections of plant material available for research, ARS is uniquely equipped to play a pivotal role in developing all three of these grasses into viable feedstocks for biofuels. ARS researchers are also working closely with companies that will produce biofuels so that they understand the companies’ priorities and are using that insight in their efforts. It’s an approach that is helping to accelerate progress toward lowering the potential costs of producing biofuels and making the biofuels price competitive with that of petroleum fuels.
…A key attribute from wild grasses is their high amount of stalk fiber, which has cellulose and other complex carbohydrates that can be converted into ethanol, complementing the ethanol that would be produced from the sugar.
…Napiergrass, also called “elephant grass,” is a native of Africa and is used as cattle forage in much of the Tropics. Napiergrass offers advantages for the Southeast: It is drought tolerant and grows well on marginal lands and in riparian areas. It can also improve water quality in riparian areas by filtering out nutrients in runoff from row crop fields. READ MORE