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Agronomy Journal Abstract - Biofuels

Biomass Yield and Biofuel Quality of Switchgrass Harvested in Fall or Spring


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 98 No. 6, p. 1518-1525
    Received: Dec 22, 2005

    * Corresponding author(s): paul.adler@ars.usda.gov
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  1. Paul R. Adler *a,
  2. Matt A. Sandersona,
  3. Akwasi A. Boatengb,
  4. Paul J. Weimerc and
  5. Hans-Joachim G. Jungd
  1. a USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, Building 3702, Curtin Road, University Park, PA 16802
    b USDA-ARS, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA 19038
    c USDA-ARS, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, WI 53706
    d USDA-ARS, Plant Science Research Unit, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108


Seasonal time of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) harvest affects yield and biofuel quality and balancing these two components may vary depending on conversion system. A field study compared fall and spring harvest measuring biomass yield, element concentration, carbohydrate characterization, and total synthetic gas production as indicators of biofuel quality for direct combustion, ethanol production, and gasification systems for generation of energy. Switchgrass yields decreased almost 40% (from about 7–4.4 Mg ha−1) in winters with above average snowfall when harvest was delayed over winter until spring. The moisture concentration also decreased (from about 350–70 g kg−1) only reaching low enough levels for safe storage by spring. About 10% of the yield reduction during winter resulted from decreases in tiller mass; however, almost 90% of the yield reduction was due to an increase in biomass left behind by the baler. Mineral element concentrations generally decreased with the delay in harvest until spring. Energy yield from gasification did not decrease on a unit biomass basis, whereas ethanol production was variable depending on the assessment method. When expressed on a unit area basis, energy yield decreased. Biofuel conversion systems may determine harvest timing. For direct combustion, the reduced mineral concentrations in spring-harvested biomass are desirable. For ethanol fermentation and gasification systems, however, lignocellulose yield may be more important. On conservations lands, the wildlife cover provided by switchgrass over the winter may increase the desirability of spring harvest along with the higher biofuel quality.

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