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Agronomy Journal Abstract - Biofuels

Temporal and Spatial Variation in Switchgrass Biomass Composition and Theoretical Ethanol Yield


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 104 No. 1, p. 54-64
    Received: June 20, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): marty.schmer@ars.usda.gov
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  1. M. R. Schmer *a,
  2. K. P. Vogelb,
  3. R. B. Mitchellb,
  4. B. S. Dienc,
  5. H. G. Jungd and
  6. M. D. Caslere
  1. a USDA-ARS, Agroecosystem Management Research Unit, Lincoln, NE 68586-0937
    b USDA-ARS, Grain, Forage, and Bioenergy Research Unit, Lincoln, NE 68586-0937
    c USDA-ARS, Bioenergy Research Unit, Rm. 3300, 1815 N. University St., Peoria, IL 61604-3999
    d USDA-ARS, Plant Science Research Unit, St. Paul, MN 55108-6026
    e USDA-ARS, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, WI 53706


Information on temporal and spatial variation in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) biomass composition as it affects ethanol yield (L Mg−1) at a biorefinery and ethanol production (L ha−1) at the field-scale has previously not been available. Switchgrass biomass samples were collected from a regional, on-farm trial and biomass composition was determined using newly developed near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) prediction equations and theoretical ethanol yield (100% conversion efficiency) was calculated. Total hexose (cell wall polysaccharides and soluble sugars) concentration ranged from 342 to 398 g kg−1 while pentose (arabinose and xylose) concentration ranged from 216 to 245 g kg−1 across fields. Theoretical ethanol yield varied significantly by year and field, with 5 yr means ranging from 381 to 430 L Mg−1. Total theoretical ethanol production ranged from 1749 to 3691 L ha−1 across fields. Variability (coefficient of variation) within established switchgrass fields ranged from 1 to 4% for theoretical ethanol yield (L Mg−1) and 14 to 38% for theoretical ethanol production (L ha−1). Most fields showed a lack of spatial consistency across harvest years for theoretical ethanol yield or total theoretical ethanol production. Switchgrass biomass composition from farmer fields can be expected to have significant annual and field-to-field variation in a production region, and this variation will significantly affect ethanol or other liquid fuel yields per ton or hectare. Cellulosic biorefineries will need to consider this potential variation in biofuel yields when developing their business plans.

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