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Ceres Sponsoring Switchgrass Research at South Dakota State University

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. is sponsoring research at South Dakota State University in Brookings to develop improved switchgrass for the northern Great Plains. Switchgrass is a native species of North America’s tallgrass prairie and is considered a promising feedstock for cellulosic ethanol.

The cooperative, multi-year program will focus on developing higher-yielding cultivars adapted to production in northern latitudes, often called upland types. South Dakota State University (SDSU) plant breeder Arvid Boe, Ph.D, will lead field and greenhouse research, which will involve cross breeding and selections supported by Ceres technology that makes the process more efficient and predictable.

University researchers will also study genetic diversity in this perennial grass species, among other objectives.

Peter Mascia, Ceres vice president of product development, said that South Dakota has been a key supporter of cellulosic biofuels, and switchgrass, in particular.

Dr. Boe has decades of experience in switchgrass and is regarded in the industry as a leading expert in upland types. This joint product development program allows us to expand our existing switchgrass breeding efforts for what we believe will be an important biofuel production region.

—Peter Mascia

Dr. Boe believes switchgrass can be competitive with conventional crops, especially on the semi-arid land of South Dakota and Nebraska. Switchgrass is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, and compared with many other perennial grasses and conventional crop plants, it produces relatively large amounts of biomass under both good and poor growing conditions.

To maximize performance, cultivars intended for biofuel production on the northern Great Plains must be highly productive and able to persist in cold climates, according to Dr. Boe.

In October, Ceres announced a multi-year collaboration to develop high-biomass sorghums with Texas A&M University. The company’s research and development efforts also cover miscanthus, energycane and woody crops. Early products will include high-yielding switchgrass cultivars scheduled for release in 2009 and sorghum hybrids scheduled the following year. (Earlier post.)



If we can grow, mow and gasify switchgrass into methane we could head off some of the LNG rush that is trying to make up for reduced supplies of NG.

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