Energy Crops and Their Implications on Soil and Environment
- Humberto Blanco-Canqui *
Interest in producing cellulosic ethanol from renewable energy sources is growing. Potential energy crops include row crops such as corn (Zea mays L.), perennial warm-season grasses (WSGs), and short-rotation woody crops (SRWCs). However, impacts of growing dedicated energy crops as biofuel on soil and environment have not been well documented. This article reviews the (i) impacts of growing WSGs and SRWCs on soil properties, soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration, and water quality, and (ii) performance of energy crops in marginal lands. Literature shows that excessive (≥50%) crop residue removal adversely impacts soil and environmental quality as well as crop yields. Growing WSGs and SRWCs can be potential alternatives to crop residue removal as biofuel. Warm-season grasses and SRWCs can improve soil properties, reduce soil erosion, and sequester SOC. Crop residue removal reduces SOC concentration by 1 to 3 Mg ha−1 yr−1 in the top 10 cm, whereas growing WSGs and SRWCs increase SOC concentration while providing biofuel feedstocks. The WSGs can store SOC between 0 and 3 Mg C ha−1 yr−1 in the top 5 cm of soil, while the SRWCs can store between 0 and 1.6 Mg ha−1 yr−1 of SOC in the top 100 cm. The WSGs and SRWCs have more beneficial effects on soil and environment when grown in marginal lands than when grown in croplands or natural forests. Indeed, they can grow in nutrient-depleted, compacted, poorly drained, acid, and eroded soils. Development of sustainable systems of WSGs and SRWCs in marginal lands is a high priority.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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