Department of Energy Publishes Report on Switchgrass as an Energy Crop
April 15, 2008
The U.S. Department of Energy funded screening trials of potential energy crops that can be used as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. These trials included 34 species and were conducted on a wide range of soil types in 31 different sites in seven states. The majority of institutions involved in the screening studies identified switchgrass as having high priority for further development.
Switchgrass has demonstrated a capacity for high yields on relatively poor quality sites. A large and deep root system is the key to high production and soil improvement in poor quality sites. Research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has shown that soil organic carbon was increased by 30% during a 4-year cycle, indicating that switchgrass has a significant capacity to improve soil quality by sequestering carbon. Improved erosion control, reduced fertilizer and pesticide requirements and a capacity for providing wildlife cover are additional positive environmental attributes. Additional reasons for the selection of switchgrass included reliable productivity across a wide geographical range, suitability for marginal land, and low water and nutrient requirements.
This report describes the conditions under which the herbaceous species were screened, summarizes results from those trials, and discusses the various factors which influenced the selection of switchgrass.