by Staff Writers
Chicago IL (SPX) Feb 22, 2016
New research has identified regions in the United States where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing effects on water quantity and quality. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used detailed models to examine impacts on water quantity and quality in soils that would occur if existing vegetation was replaced by various bioenergy crops in the name of ethanol production.
"We expect the outcome of this study to support scientifically sound national policy decisions on bioenergy crops development especially with regards to cellulosic grasses," wrote Atul Jain, professor of atmospheric sciences at U of I, regarding a paper published by the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Currently, corn is the dominant crop used in biofuel production. Recently, research has revealed bioenergy grasses such as Miscanthus and switchgrasses such as Alamo and Cave-in-Rock causes less nitrogen to be lost due to rain and irrigation than corn.
Nitrogen is an important nutrient for crops and a key ingredient in fertilizer, but nitrogen often washes away into rivers and other bodies of water where it is detrimental to aquatic ecosystems.
Another advantage bioenergy grasses and switchgrasses have over corn is their deep root system which allows them to draw water and nutrients from deeper soil levels and allows them to be more resilient in poor growing seasons.
"Growing bioenergy grasses, in general, can mitigate nitrogen leaching across the United States," said Yang Song, a graduate student and the study's lead author.
"However, the greatest reduction in nitrogen leaching occurs when bioenergy crops displace other cropland or grassland, because energy crops consume more water and less nitrogen fertilizer than the crops and grasses that they replace, resulting in less water runoff and nitrogen loss."
By using a combination of crop growth, hydrological, carbon and nitrogen cycle models, researchers found that the estimated land suitable for bioenergy grasses--particularly Miscanthus, the most productive bioenergy crop--is limited, despite its relatively high biomass productivity and low water consumption per unit of ethanol.
Specifically, the most suitable regions to grow bioenergy grasses in terms of impact on water (and ultimately ethanol production) are eastern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and the Northern Atlantic regions. Miscanthus and Cave-in-Rock are less suitable in areas such as Missouri, southern Illinois, and Mississippi River watershed regions of eastern Arkansas.
Finally, the researchers found that bioenergy crops do best in regions with higher precipitation rates. They are more likely to fail in dryer regions with less frequent and predictable precipitation, such as the Great Plains, where environmental conditions limit production of bioenergy grasses.
In the Midwest, on the other hand, the grasses are generally able to withstand periodic dry conditions because their roots can grow toward deeper and moister soil.
University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Bio Fuel Technology and Application 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.|