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Ceres and University of Georgia Researchers Focus on High-Yielding Switchgrass for Southeast US

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc., will work with University of Georgia researchers to develop new high-yielding switchgrass seed varieties and improved crop management techniques for the southeastern United States. Switchgrass, which can reach yields of 6 to 10 dry tons or more in the Southeast, is being widely considered as a raw material for next-generation biofuels and biopower.

The multi-year project will bring together plant breeders, agronomists and support scientists at Ceres and the University of Georgia to develop improved seed varieties.

Field researchers will also evaluate cropping practices in the Southeast, adapting developments made by The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, an Oklahoma-based agricultural research institution with which Ceres has a long-term product development collaboration.

This project allows us to expand our internal and collaborative plant breeding activities in a region where we believe the industry will have a strong presence. There’s a lot of headroom for improvement and I’m confident that working together we can continue to drive up yields at a robust pace

—Ceres plant breeding director Jeff Gwyn, Ph.D.

Plant breeder Charles Brummer, Ph.D., University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said that regionally focused research will be valuable for growers across the region since Georgia and the Southeast have a unique set of environmental factors, owing to their long growing season and high rainfall.

By trialing and selecting new products in the middle of their target market, we can make greater gains more quickly and with greater certainty.

—Charles Brummer

Brummer noted that in addition to selecting higher-yielding plants, researchers will examine seeding rates, row spacing and no-till planting recommendations, and other crop management practices.

The University of Georgia has a well-regarded collection of switchgrass breeding materials and germplasm—the precursors of commercial seed varieties. Ceres will have commercialization rights for products developed under the Ceres-funded project. The Noble Foundation will also participate in the project, including both field research and switchgrass breeding lines. Other aspects of the collaboration were not disclosed.

In December, Ceres launched the first switchgrass and sorghum varieties developed for bioenergy, which are sold under the company’ Blade Energy Crops label. (Earlier post.) Ceres has established the largest field-trial network for dedicated energy crops in the United States, including more than a dozen leading universities and institutions.

Comments

SJC

Even if they just did this on millions of acres of Federal land and put the biochar after gasification back in the soil, it would be a good use of time and money.

3PeaceSweet

If its possible to find a simple, water proof rooting system for switchgrass it would be ideal to grow on the roofs of many buildings. During the summer it would shade the building and reduce heating demands (as well as being a haven for nesting birds), then it can be cut and pressed and used as a heating fuel in the winter (the grass not the birds). Its also a good way of using 'grey water' from the buildings. Still better to go from sunlight to electric to motion.

ejj

Anyone who loves America and doesn't want to fight another war because of the influence of oil, and doesn't our president bowing to Saudi Kings, should love this research. There is a lot of land across the Southeast that could be enlisted for energy crop production .... it could help a lot of local economies & government coffers too.

HealthyBreeze

I like the idea of biofuels in concept, to help transition away from a liquid fueled auto fleet, and to sustain heavy vehicles that continue to need biodiesel.

I do keep wondering how the economics works? Do 7 tons of dryweight switch grass per acre pay for the farmer, the land, the gasification equipment, and still compete with Saudi Light Sweet Crude? How big does the gasification plant have to be, and how close to the farm to keep the tranportation costs and energy low?

ai_vin

@Peace
I'm sure you could find such a system; http://www.greenroofs.com/

SJC

H.B.

As I understand it, the scaling up beyond a certain size of gasifier is the limitation. That is why I favor the 100 square mile gasifier plant all over Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and other grain belt states.

100 miles by 100 miles would be 100 gasifier plants all putting methane into the natural gas pipes, biofuel pipes, rail and trucks for methanol and ethanol.
This way, you only have to haul the biomass to gasifier around 5 miles or so.

Will S

Anyone who loves America and doesn't want to fight another war because of the influence of oil, and doesn't our president bowing to Saudi Kings, should love this research.

It's much more complicated than this, and the sneering at people you don't call patriots is a dead giveaway you really don't have an argument.

Water: Where will we do this that enough rainfall and groundwater reservoir capacity to keep this going indefinitely? What do we do during the droughts that are becoming more frequent?

Fertilizer: Where do we get the fertilizer from; consume more natural gas => ammonia => nitrogen?

Energy return on investment: How much energy do we really get out of the compared to what we put in? We need to include all of the consumption points (field prep, planting, cultivation, harvest, handling, distillation etc), including shipping the ethanol from Nebraska to LA and Atlanta (for example).

Alain

The energy density of dry switchgrass is about 20 MJ/kg.
so, in the very best case you have 200 GJ/acre/year
Lets say you have a 50% conversion efficiency to fuel, ending with 100 GJ/acre/year.
One humble 1.5 MW windmill that has an average effective production of 1MW produces 3600x24x365 = 31536000 MJ/year or 31536 GJ/year or 315 times more.
Even if conversion of the electricity to fuel via whatever method decreases its efficience to 10% it is still 31 times better. Although the windmills are not cheap, I wonder what's the price of growing, harvesting, transporting and transforming 31 acres of switchgrass year after year after year, while the windmill keeps on turning for at least 20 years.
And I certainly would prefer pristine wilderness with a few windmills over huge switchgrass monocultures.
Switchgrass is good, but we can do much better.

SJC

With 5 tons per acre and 100 gallons per ton (Syntec) we would have 500 gallons per acre. Using the plant stalks and not the grain, we are using no extra water nor land. The biochar goes back to the land to help the soil and if you have to make nitrogen fertilizer, you can make it from the biomass. It has the hydrogen required to make it that they get from natural gas.

Silverthorn
If its possible to find a simple, water proof rooting system for switchgrass it would be ideal to grow on the roofs of many buildings.
I'm all for green rooftops, but switch grass is not a good candidate. It's a tall perrenial grass that develops a deep root system. That's the main reason it's a good energy crop -- drought resistant, extracts nutrients from marginal soil, needs little or no fertilizer, and builds soil.
The energy density of dry switchgrass is about 20 MJ/kg. so, in the very best case you have 200 GJ/acre/year Lets say you have a 50% conversion efficiency to fuel, ending with 100 GJ/acre/year.

One humble 1.5 MW windmill that has an average effective production of 1MW produces 3600x24x365 = 31536000 MJ/year or 31536 GJ/year or 315 times more.


The spacing needed for 1.5 MW windmills requires a lot more than one acre per windmill. I think it's more like 40. The point remains, however: wind turbines (or solar arrays, for that matter) can produce a lot more energy per land area than energy crops.

What they can't do is provide a low-capital means to extract carbon from the atmosphere, or an easy way to store energy for use when needed. And they especially can't provide bird and animal habitat in the bargain.

Balance, people, balance!

ai_vin

"The spacing needed for 1.5 MW windmills requires a lot more than one acre per windmill. I think it's more like 40."

That's more or less true, but it's not like the space between the turbines is unuseable for other things: Other things like energy crops.

HarveyD

ai vin:

Since you can grow just about anything under windmills, one could say that they use very little useful farming space.

It is very doubtful that USA can grow enough biomass to feed over 250,000,000 gas guzzlers without affecting edible food crops.

Some 40 000 large wind mills and/or about 100 large up-to-date nuclear plants could do it, if and when, PHEVs and BEVs are introduced on very large scale.

The solution is to progressively and actively reduce liquid fuel consumption, not to switch to biomass, coal etc to keep our gas guzzlers going.

ai_vin

You'll get no argument from me on that.

SJC

Let's say you could put one 1 MW wind turbine per acre and let's say you could put 100 x 100 feet of PV 100 feet up on each tower pole facing south. Then on each acre you grow crops like corn for food and use the stalks for fuel....sounds like an efficient use of land producing lots of food and energy.

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