Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
  Energy News  


Subscribe free to our newsletters via your




















BIO FUEL
A new recipe for biofuel
by Staff Writers
Lemont IL (SPX) Feb 26, 2016


A switchgrass plot grown as part of an Argonne National Laboratory-led study to test how genetic variation within the switchgrass species affects growth. Researchers found that mixing genetic varieties from different geographical regions promotes overall crop growth. Image courtesy Julie Jastrow, Argonne National Laboratory. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Before farmers settled the Midwestern United States and planted crops, the extensive root systems of prairie grasses--including the tall, strong-stemmed switchgrass species--enriched the soil, creating millions of acres of prime farmland. Today, scientists are exploring how grasses, and switchgrass in particular, can enrich the nation's biofuel supply, which is currently dominated by corn, a crop relatively easy to convert to biofuel but also in demand for food, livestock feed and industrial products.

There are many benefits to growing switchgrass. It is a native crop that grows in a range of climates across a wide swath of the United States; it is easy to maintain because, unlike corn, it doesn't need to be re-seeded every year; it is relatively resistant to disease and weather extremes; and it can be planted and harvested with commercial haying equipment.

But converting the tough lignocellulose in switchgrass cell walls into biofuels like ethanol (an additive to gasoline and one of the most common biofuels in the United States) is more difficult than converting the starch in corn. As a result, switchgrass research has largely focused on how to efficiently process it once it reaches a biorefinery.

However, a team of national laboratory and university researchers led by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory is exploring the other side of the production cycle: the farm. The team is growing large test plots of switchgrass crops with the farmer in mind.

For the first time, researchers have mixed different genetic varieties of switchgrass on production-size plots, hypothesizing this could increase yield by extending the growing season, varying the size of the switchgrass plants to produce a fuller crop and potentially reducing the crop's vulnerability to weather fluctuations.

The results of a seven-year study of these plots have been published in Global Change Biology-Bioenergy. The project was funded by the DOE Office of Science with support from the Argonne/UChicago Energy Initiative and grants from the United States Department of Agriculture.

"This project addresses the ecological component of bioenergy research" said Julie Jastrow, Argonne senior terrestrial ecologist. "In other words, how do you sustain yields in the field while minimizing fertilizer and pesticide use?"

From the farmer's perspective, it can be easy to overlook the benefits of switchgrass. Over time, commercial crops like corn have been selectively bred for high-productivity, improved response to fertilizers and efficient harvesting. Whereas, switchgrass is a wild grass mostly used for forage or soil restoration. Switchgrass is also slower to establish. Up front it can take three to four years for a crop to reach its most productive yields--in part, because switchgrass invests much of its initial energy developing a large root system that later minimizes the need for added fertilizer or water.

Previous studies have looked at the advantage of growing several species of prairie grass in the same plot. Species diversity is often an ecological strength, promoting growth and protecting a plant population from insect damage, pathogen build-up and weather highs and lows. However, it's easier to process a single species into ethanol, so the team wanted to find other ways of boosting productivity within the switchgrass species.

"Switchgrass has a wide distribution across the country, and there is still a lot of genetic diversity in switchgrass," Jastrow said. "And the different varieties have different traits. The southern varieties are taller with bigger leaves and stems, but they are less dense and grow fewer stems per square meter. The northern varieties are smaller but produce more stems." The stems are the primary source of lignocellulose harvested for biofuel.

Varieties also have slightly different growing seasons based on the amount of daily sunlight and the arrival of hot, summer temperatures in their native regions.

In 2008, the team planted 13 acres of switchgrass at the Fermilab National Environmental Research Park in northeastern Illinois. Through 2014, they grew three genetic varieties, or cultivars, of switchgrass, each on its own separate plot. The three switchgrass cultivars were selected from different geographic regions: the Kanlow cultivar from Oklahoma, the Cave-in-Rock cultivar from southern Illinois and the Southlow cultivar from Michigan.

The team also grew a mixture of the three cultivars to test their theory that genetic variation would promote growth. Beginning in the second year, the plots were annually harvested by a local farmer, and the bales from each plot were weighed to measure yield.

"The experiment was managed just as a farmer would manage a hayfield," said Geoff Morris, assistant professor of crop genetics at Kansas State University and lead author of the GCB-Bioenergy paper. "Our goal was to make the results as transferable as possible to a real production system."

While there was no formal method in place to study yield in relation to weather extremes, the crops were grown under some exceptional weather conditions. The area saw its wettest year on record in 2008, an historic drought and higher than normal summer temperatures in 2012 and unusually cold winters in 2009 and 2014.

"Despite the weather fluctuations, the cultivar mixture consistently produced yields equal to or greater than the best performing single cultivars," Jastrow said.

The cultivar mixture was, most consistently, the highest yielding crop, as measured by the harvested dry weight from each plot. Although the cold-adapted Southlow cultivar from Michigan was slightly higher yielding following the cold winter of 2014, it was the lowest yielding the first five years, demonstrating that, at least within the parameters of the study, increasing genetic diversity by planting a mixture of cultivars is the quickest way to establish a crop and sustain the highest overall yields.

.


Related Links
Argonne National Laboratory
Bio Fuel Technology and Application News






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
BIO FUEL
ONR engineers innovative research in synthetic biology
Washington DC (SPX) Feb 23, 2016
An exciting new scientific frontier - synthetic biology - took center stage as a celebrated scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently spoke at the headquarters of the Office of Naval Research (ONR). As part of a Distinguished Lecture Series celebrating ONR's 70th anniversary, world-class scientists, researchers and experts from diverse fields will be speaking ... read more


BIO FUEL
SoloPower-led team target Indian rooftop PV market

KYOCERA kelps Dominican Republic save money with renewable energy

Landmark Community Solar Initiative Moves Forward In Maryland

Chemically storing solar power

BIO FUEL
WELTEC Group Acquires 3.3 MW Biogas Plant

ONR engineers innovative research in synthetic biology

Best regions for growing bioenergy crops identified

Tiny red crystals dramatically increase biogas production

BIO FUEL
Adwen Chooses Sentient Science For Computational Gearbox Testing

EU boasts of strides in renewable energy

Offshore U.K. to host world's largest wind farm

Germany aims to build wind energy reputation

BIO FUEL
Quantum phase transition underpins superconductivity in copper oxides

New material to enhance battery life

Creation of Jupiter interior, a step towards room temp superconductivity

New synthesis method developed at UEF opens up new possibilities for Li-ion batteriess

BIO FUEL
New model maps energy usage of every building in Boston

The forecast for renewable energy in 2016

US, Canada and Mexico sign clean energy pact

Supreme Court deals blow to Obama climate plan

BIO FUEL
VW faces huge US lawsuit over pollution cheating

Some distractions while driving are more risky than others

Uber defends driver scrutiny in wake of shooting

Volkswagen chief predicts 'renaissance' in US business

BIO FUEL
60 years after pioneering survey, Wisconsin prairies are changing rapidly

Eating less beef key to meeting EU climate targets: study

Feeding a city with better food sources

How hunter-gatherers preserved their food sources

BIO FUEL
New research introduces 'pause button' for boiling

Mystery of Dracula orchids' mimicry is unraveled with a 3-D printer

Shrinking 3-D technology for comfortable smart phone viewing

Modified laser cutter prints 3-D objects from powder




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News








The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.