WERA1016: Adaptation, Quality and Management of Sustainable Cellulosic Biofuel Crops in the West
Statement of Issues and JustificationLand and natural resources are abundant and diverse in the western region. Water is the most limiting resource in this arid or semi-arid environment. The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) suggested that agriculture will need to contribute nearly 1 billion tons and forestry 368 million tons of biomass annually to meet the nations' needs for cellulosic biofuels (Perlack, et.al., 2005). Primary biomass crops identified were corn stover, small grain straws, grains, perennial grasses (CRP and switchgrass) and woody crops. DOE Roadmap details amounts and regions where feedstocks are expected to be harvested (DOE, 2007). Unfortunately the report only lists woody biomass and forestry trimmings as western contributions, ignoring other biomass types. The USDA Energy Plan includes annual and perennial cellulosic crops as dedicated bioenergy feedstocks nationwide (USDA, 2008).
Traditionally western growers harvest annual grain crops, leaving straw residue in the field for erosion control or bale just enough for winter bedding. Perennial grasses and legumes would be grazed, harvested for hay or silage, and fed to livestock. Some western hay is exported, with the Pacific Rim and east coast as primary customers. Growers are paid for higher quality hay and have learned to meet market demands through multiple seasonal harvests, even if tonnage is low. Biofuel feedstock production requires a different approach, even though many of the same crops would be grown. High amounts of cellulose, a carbohydrate based cell wall fiber, is most important in second generation biorefineries. Hemicellulose is of lower importance, although bioenergy products are also produced from this carbohydrate based cell wall component. Lignin, a non carbohydrate, is part of the biomass primary cell wall and linked to lower animal performance. However, lignin in advanced generation biorefineries is used as a bioenergy resource, primarily to produce electricity for the biorefinery. Feedstocks for advanced generation biorefineries therefore requires a different level of cell wall composition and fiber quality compared to forage for animals. This should result in fewer seasonal cuttings, higher harvestable tonnages (or higher biomass yields), reduction in costs of harvesting, equipment repairs/replacement and provide for a stable market.
The goal of this project is to provide new results and recommendations, without duplication of other western biofuel projects, to assess selection and management of dedicated cellulosic biofuel and bioenergy crops (including CRP) grown sustainably by growers for western biorefineries. Today the western region does not have a designated cellulosic commercial feedstock producing operation. Western land grant universities should accept leadership and partner with private companies and biorefineries, making this energy independence option available for western growers.
Additional linkages: Proposed partnerships and collaborations include but are not limited to: 1. research and Extension forage agronomy faculty from the following targeted states: AL, AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, TX, UT, WA and WY, 2. economics faculty from the targeted states, 3. USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS collaborators from the targeted states, 4. innovative and traditional western forage (and woody) grower organizations, and 5. with commercial bio-refineries, such as Pacific Ethanol and Zea Chem, both located at Boardman, OR.
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