ACS National Meeting to Hold Biofuels Symposium; Paper to be Presented on Sustainability of Switchgrass as Ethanol Source
Sustainability of energy, food and water is the featured theme of the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, which began today in Chicago and runs through Thursday.
Within that larger structure, challenges and advances specific to biofuels are featured in a three-day symposium: “Agricultural Biomass, Biobased Products, and Biofuels,” March 27-29. Topics range from novel bioenergy sources to new processes that make the conversion of biomass to fuel more efficient.
Tuesday’s session will begin with a presentation by Gale Buchanan, Ph.D., the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics, who is scheduled to discuss the benefits of renewable energy and government efforts to speed the commercialization of alternative and renewable energy sources.
Among the many papers presented will be a study by the USDA that confirms the sustainability of switchgrass for future US energy needs. The USDA recently completed a five-year field trial, conducted among 10 farms in the Northern Great Plains, to evaluate the energy balance for switchgrass grown for cellulosic ethanol. The study confirmed that switchgrass can be grown in a sustainable manner for biofuel production to meet future US energy demands, according to Marty Schmer of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Lincoln, Neb.
The USDA paper, which will be presented on Tuesday, 27 March, concludes that switchgrass would produce considerably more energy in the form of biofuels than the petroleum inputs required for switchgrass management.
The presentation will come in the wake of discussion over concerns that current switchgrass yields in some projects are low, while costs are high.
Farmers in four southern Iowa counties who have been growing switchgrass as part of the Chariton Valley Biomass Project found that it cost them approximately $60 a ton to grow, harvest and bale the grass, with an average yield of about 3 tons per acre, according to a report in the Des Moines Register.
Transportation costs and profit margins will add another $55 to $65 a ton, according to one of the farmers in the project, resulting in a price of $115 to $125/ton.
Those costs are on the high end of a range of costs determined by earlier research at Iowa State University (Duffy and Nanhou). The Iowa State study estimated the costs of production for seven different scenarios and four different yield levels.
Their estimated cost to produce switchgrass ranged from $54 to $149 per ton, depending on the type of production system used. The cheapest method involved high yields (6 tons per acre) using frost-seeding on grassland. Low yields (1.5 tons per acre) using spring-seeding on cropland resulted in the highest costs of production.
Another paper at the ACS biofuels symposium will describe a anaerobic digestor that converts food wastes—which account for 16% percent of the materials going to landfill— into hydrogen and methane gas. If converted to electricity, the biogas produced from one ton of food waste is enough to power 10 homes in the United States per day, the researchers will say.
(A hat-tip to Wim!)
“Costs of Producing Switchgrass for Biomass in Southern Iowa”; Michael D. Duffy and Virginie Y. Nanhou; from: Trends in new crops and new uses 2002. J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.) ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA
Economics of Ethanol (Purdue)
“Biomass Yield and Stand Characteristics of Switchgrass in South Central US Environments”; K. A. Cassidaa, J. P. Muirb, M. A. Husseye, J. C. Readd, B. C. Venutoc and W. R. Ocumpaughf; Crop Sci. 45:673-681 (2005)
“Development of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) as a bioenergy feedstock in the United States”; Samuel B. McLaughlin and Lynn Adams Kszos; Biomass and Bioenergy Volume 28, Issue 6 , June 2005, Pages 515-535