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Oklahoma To Plant 1,100 Acres of Cellulosic Biofuel Crops

The Oklahoma Bioenergy Center (OBC), a state initiative, has secured land to enable the planting of more than 1,100 acres of production-scale demonstration fields for cellulosic energy crops, such as switchgrass and sorghum. Planting will take place within the next 45 days.

The central piece of this effort is 1,000 acres of switchgrass which will be planted near Guymon, Okla. in the state's panhandle. This switchgrass field will be the first of its size anywhere in the world focused on biomass production. Additional acreage of sorghum and switchgrass will be planted near Chickasha and Maysville in central Oklahoma.

Switchgrass is a perennial grass that is naturally drought resistant and grows on marginal lands. The OBC demonstration fields will provide academia and industry a living laboratory to understand the production and long-term impact of bioenergy crops, as well as experiment with new production techniques and critical harvest, collection and transport methods.

A cellulosic biorefinery currently being constructed by Abengoa Bioenergy in Hugoton, Kan., will be less than 35 miles from Guymon, and the switchgrass fields in the panhandle will provide material to this biorefinery. The Abengoa Bioenergy facility is expected to be operational in 2010. (Earlier post.)

The value of the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center to the cellulosic ethanol industry cannot be overstated. The early and aggressive establishment of 1,000 acres of switchgrass will provide researchers, scientists, agricultural producers and industry—not only in Oklahoma but across the nation—with important information that will help establish the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry.

—Gerson Santos-Leon, executive vice president, Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies

Revenues received from the sale of biomass will be reinvested in the OBC for additional bioenergy and biofuel research.

The OBC demonstration fields will benefit from the involvement of a contingent of national organizations. In addition to Abengoa Bioenergy, Ceres Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., will provide seed and agronomic direction for the establishment and management of the fields. Idaho National Laboratory, the lead feedstock supply and logistics laboratory for the Department of Energy, will provide expertise in harvest, collection and processing of biomass in coordination with Abengoa Bioenergy.

Comments

SJC

I think that in 5-10 years we will see 10s of millions of acres of land planted in biofuel crops like switch grass. They will come up with a crop that will hold the soil, not take a lot of water nor fertilizer and produce good yields of fuel. There will be biofuel processing plants every 15-20 miles and the fuel will be transported by truck and rail, maybe some day even a pipeline. I believe that we can produce 20% of our transportation fuel with cellulose. Then we can tell the middle east to keep their oil. This would be a great start to a new and better future.

Cervus

As long as they don't replace food crops directly. Switchgrass is a perennial, I believe. At least it'll hold the soil and retain more water and nutrients. I think that a recent study concluded there's a 5:1 EROEI, which is pretty good.

Feed the cellulose into the biogasoline process detailed in an earlier post, and we can make up for a lot of oil supplies.

We have a lot of potential feedstocks for liquid fuels. And the way batteries are going, we're going to have even more competition in the Green Car category.

gr

Nice to see progress moving swiftly on second gen biofuels. The continued growth of these fuels will help defeat oil addiction and provide news jobs to farmers, refiners and the new ethanol infrastructure.

Engineer-Poet

Switchgrass is perennial, but mixed-species stands appear to be more productive than pure switchgrass.  Miscanthus giganteus grows faster than switchgrass, but it probably requires more water; it seems to grow well in corn territory like Illinois.

Switchgrass can either be grazed or mown for fuel, not both.  This means that more fuel production means pressure on food prices.  It would be better if fuel was produced using byproducts of food-crop production.

treehugger

I am very doubtful of growing Switch grass to provide feedstock for cellulosic ethanol will be economically viable for the farmer, especially when you see the problem of food scarcity in the coming years, it will more profitabl to use it for grazing or growing some food for sure, unless there is significant subsidies..

Jon

People that know nothing about the farming industry should keep their opinions to themselves and do some research on the topic. Treehugger Engineer-poet

- a Minnesota grass farmer

Engineer-Poet

Have you taciturn Minnesotans been sitting on an advance that allows the same grass to be fed to both cattle AND ethanol plants?  You agronomists have managed to break laws that us physics-types have long considered inviolate?  Do please enlighten us!

Herm

There is lots of land in the world to grow food and fuel.. obviously if that was not the case then food would have priority.. The high cost of food today is due to fuel costs and the drought problems in Australia.

Regarding the economics of switchgrass.. we harvest it once a year.. what does the ethanol plant do the rest of the year?.. they have huge stocks of stored switchgrass and work on it all year? process other raw materials? Nice thing about dent corn is that it stores so nicely and compact.

Will cattle eat switchgrass?

SJC

The farmers can make money on food and fuel. If farmers can make $1000 per acre on corn for food and he can make $1000 per acre on fuel made from corn stalks, they would be doing quite well. Farmers of the future will be doing good and doing well. There are more than 140 million liquid fueled ICE vehicles out there in the U.S. Quite a good market I would say. A farm with 10,000 acres could gross $10-20 million per year. Not bad.

eric

"Switchgrass can either be grazed or mown for fuel, not both. This means that more fuel production means pressure on food prices. It would be better if fuel was produced using byproducts of food-crop production."

ANY biofuel crop is going to put some pressure on food prices. all we can do is minimise the impact. yes, it would be wonderful if globally significant quanities of biofuels could be produced from corn husks or wheat stalks or orange peel but until that time we must work with what we have got.

SJC

We can easily provide 10-20% of our transportation fuel with agriculture and forest waste without any fuel crops. The USDA and DOE and the Billion Ton estimate showed that this can be done.

If we used 20% less oil by 2020, that would be over 4 million barrels less per day. We could tell the middle east to sell their $300 per barrel oil to China. This would be a good thing for us. For once we would not have to go to war for oil.

Engineer-Poet
Will cattle eat switchgrass?
Yes, and it makes good hay also.  However, per the reference it appears that it can either be grazed or mown early for fodder, or cut late for fuel; the same stand isn't suitable for both uses at the same time.

The productivity is low compared to Miscanthus, and crop byproducts such as corn stover don't have to be traded off against food production; the same land which produces 150 bu of grain can yield ~2 tons of stover.

SJC

It sounded like corn cobs were a good thing to use too. The article on ANG using charcoal made from them stated that one state could make enough for 10 million cars. That is a lot of corn cobs.

Alain

For the last 3000 years, we've been improving corn for a better yield. For switchgrass and miscanthus, we've only just started. So, I expect big improvements in tons/acre in the comming years.
At the moment, there's the question of using food to produce fuel. Soon, with the actual and comming technology, we will probably be using fuel to produce food.
Since the yield/acre is much higher using grasses than conventional foodcrops, it could be very interesting to transform cornfields to miscanthus even for food production.
All fermentation technologies to transform cellulose to fuel, have multiple steps. One of them is braking down cellulose to glucose.
If we use that glucose as an alternative to the actual glucose-source (corn), the yield/acre will be much higher. This glucose could probably also be used as animal fodder, or (after repolymerisation to starch) human food.

sulleny

Sorry to disappoint food crisis hysterics but...

U.S. produces 12 billion bushels of corn annually (1/2 world total.) Of that 12% is consumed directly or indirectly as food products. To date zero, 0.00% of that crop has been diverted from food production.

If you want to whine about corn, go after the 80% that is used as feed for livestock - that make 100M tons methane annually. Next time you're having a Whopper, pork chop or Big Mak... Your GHG footprint gets fatter. Eat less meat - save the planet.

SJC

One of the reasons cited for the rise in good prices was the change in diet in a more affluent Asia. They are eating more grains and meat. You also have the rise in oil prices adding costs to just about everything in agriculture from tractors, to water pumping to transportation.

One of the farmers said that ethanol just took up the surplus in corn that they had. That surplus lowered market prices and now they are back up to perhaps where they should have been all along.

I know that this does not help poor countries, but the wealthy countries can help out with that in many ways. Making sure the poor countries can grow their own crops and not get wiped out by subsidized developed nations might be a good start.

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