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Ceres National Switchgrass Field Trials Show Average 2008 Biomass Yields 50% Higher Than Federal Projected Yields for 2022

20 May 2009

Yield results from energy crop company Ceres, Inc.’s nation-wide network of field trials showed that average biomass yields among switchgrass seed varieties tested last season were as much as 50% higher than the government’s projected yields for 2022.

Proprietary varieties sold under the company’s Blade Energy Crops brand were consistently the highest yielding varieties across multiple trial locations, with average yields reaching nearly 10 tons.

According to Ceres, the switchgrass data were collected from small-plot, replicated trials at locations across the mid and southern latitudes of the United States on both dry and irrigated land in 2008. Like other crops, biomass yields can vary among specific locations and year-to-year.

The highest yield was reported in California, where a Ceres experimental variety produced 19 tons per acre. Ceres switchgrass product manager Dr. Cory Christensen said that “this result demonstrates the genetic potential of switchgrass grown under favorable conditions.” He predicted that “through trait development, better genetics and improved crop management practices, we can continue to increase average yields for many years to come.

Christensen noted that higher yields per acre have a significant impact on farm and conversion economics, and can dramatically reduce harvest and delivery costs per ton, collectively the single largest expense in providing raw materials to bioenergy facilities. Similar benefits would be seen in calculating the greenhouse gas savings of displacing petroleum with biofuels made from dedicated energy crops.

Based on the results, policymakers should re-think their assumptions regarding energy crop production, Ceres suggests. A number of studies assume yields as low as two to four tons per acre for switchgrass, and rather than incorporating yield increases from breeding, many of these studies hold yields virtually flat into the future. More recently, a biofuel study co-authored by Sandia National Labs used a conservative six tons of biomass per acre for energy grasses—similar to estimates by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Ceres chief executive Richard Hamilton says that while Ceres needs additional data before formally proposing new benchmarks, “these results are not surprising when you look at the impact that utilizing modern biology has had on food crop yields, like corn, which has seen a five-fold increase since the first hybrids were introduced.

Even using the government’s conservative projections, switchgrass sequesters more carbon than any other raw material evaluated by EPA, which released its official analysis on advanced biofuels earlier this month.

Energy crops like switchgrass are the only scalable, carbon-negative sources for transportation fuels in the EPA analysis,” Hamilton said, meaning that more carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere than is released in the lifecycle of producing and burning the fuel. “That’s a benefit that electric cars, hydrogen and other renewables do not provide,” he said.

With dedicated energy crops, increasing average on-farm yields will mean even greater gains in reducing greenhouse gases, as well as improved profitability for farmers and bioenergy companies. Perennial grasses are good and clearly can be made even better using well-proven technologies at hand today.

—Richard Hamilton

May 20, 2009 in Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

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10 tons per acre and 100 gallons per ton (Syntec) would be 1000 gallons per acre or enough for one commuter car. Given 100 million acres, about what is planted in corn now, that is 100 million cars. Make the cars get 35 mpg and we could be on our way towards reducing oil imports.

Another way to measure it is that the US uses about 200 billion gallons combined in diesel and gasoline per year equal to 13 million barrels per day of the 20 million barrels per day consumed in the US. So if 10 ton of dry biomass per acre per year holds water this is 100 billion gallons of ethanol from 100 million acres of land. This ethanol with domestic US oil production and the 35 mpg CAFE is enough to make the US completely independent of oil imports.

The cost of producing ethanol from biomass is still very high (but definitely below $4 per gallon) mainly because of the high capital costs. However, it is becoming clearer now that agriculture should be able to deliver a CO2 neutral substitute for all of our fossil fuel consumption especially when combined with higher mpg standards.

The 10 ton of dry biomass per acre is really something because it compares to 1000 gallons of ethanol as pointed out by SJC. For comparison Corn based ethanol is about 320 gallons per acre. I think this Switchgrass yield research is most definitely going to catch some attention at POET, Novozymes and others that are working with the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol.

I am curious to see how much fertilizer they need to put to get 10 tonnes of biomass per acre. Hope they don't need phosphorus because phosphorous is too precious and too rare to be used to grow biofuels. You can probably return the slurry from the cellulosic process to the field to recycle the mineral, but haven't seen anything about that.

I have read that they can return bio char to the land from pyrolysis, but have not read anything about gasification on this issue. Good point about the fertilizer. It is said that switch grass does not take any but the newer seeds might, if they grow that much.

Maybe I am way off on this one, but I think cellulose bio fuels, whether from corn stalks or switch grass could be really big over then next decade. It does depend on capital investment. They were willing to invest in corn ethanol and then got caught buying corn at too high a price....duh!

It all depends upon the price of oil. If gas prices skyrocket (likely), the switch to alternatives will happen fast.

Cellulosic biomethane from anaerobic digestion already exists providing around 15,000 miles travel per acre.

http://news.mongabay.com/bioenergy/2008/01/report-biogas-can-replace-all-eu.html

The digestate can be returned to the soil, any many waste products can be fed into the digester.

If there is no gas pipeline nearby, use it to generate electricity (on site with wind power) with the waste heat being used for district heating or an industrial process / greenhouse.

Cellulosic fuels could supply an important portion of the energy used in countries with very large land mass like USA, Canada, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Australia and many African countries.

Biofuels from wastes could do almost the same for many industrial countries with large population.

However, energy sources should be diversified and should include wind, sun, Hydro, geothermal, NG and clean coal, whenever it becomes possible.

As vehicles become more and more electrified and our residences are more wisely built, the energy required per capita should fall or at least stop rising.

We still have an over consumption problem to address.

One of the most promissing technologies is biomass->syngas->biofuel. If external H2 is added (windmills in the switchgrass fields), the biofuel production per acre can almost be trippled while still using the same area of land. If the carbon market is suitable, enormous amounts of biochar could be produced while still producing enormous amounts of biofuel.
This could be a part of plan-B in case of runaway greenhouse effect.

One of the most efficient ways of getting more O2 and H2 for more fuel is concentrated solar and SOFC electrolysis. You generate heat and electricity for making lots of H2 to combine with the extra carbon from biomass gasification. We will get to the optimal solution soon enough.

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