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Agronomy Journal Abstract - BIOFUELS

Profitability Analysis of Cellulosic Energy Crops Compared with Corn


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 102 No. 2, p. 675-687
    Received: July 30, 2009

    * Corresponding author(s): swintons@msu.edu
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  1. Laura K. Jamesa,
  2. Scott M. Swinton *a and
  3. Kurt D. Thelenb
  1. a Dep. of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics
    b Dep. of Crop and Soil Sci., Michigan State Univ., East Lansing, MI 48824. All authors are also affiliated with DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Michigan State University


The expected profitability of six cellulosic feedstock crops is compared with two corn (Zea mays L.)-based systems under southern Great Lakes region conditions over a projected 10-yr period. At 2006–2009 costs and yields from literature, none would be more profitable than the corn-based systems. Comparative breakeven price analysis identifies the cellulosic feedstock price that would make crops equally profitable with continuous corn. Breakeven prices of cellulose are $110 to $130 Mg−1 for poplar (Populus spp.), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), and mixed grasses. For miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus J.M. Greef & Deuter ex Hodk. &Renvoize), breakeven cellulose prices are $200 Mg−1 at current costs, but only $45 Mg−1 if rhizome costs fall to near European levels, well within the range of temporary U.S. farm bill cost share levels for biomass harvest, transportation, and storage. Without targeted subsidies, native prairie and fallow old field systems would not be competitive with corn or the other four cellulosic crops reviewed at current yields and foreseeable prices. Comparative breakeven yields at a cellulose price of $60 Mg−1 would require yield gains above benchmark literature values of 50% for switchgrass, 60% for poplar and mixed grasses, 140% for fallow old fields, 180% for native prairie, and 190% for miscanthus at current rhizome costs, but no added yield for miscanthus with rhizomes at plausible reduced cost.

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