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Agronomy Journal Abstract - Biofuels

Current and Potential U.S. Corn Stover Supplies


This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 99 No. 1, p. 1-11
    Received: July 28, 2005

    * Corresponding author(s): grahamrl@ornl.gov
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  1. R. L. Graham *a,
  2. R. Nelsonb,
  3. J. Sheehanc,
  4. R. D. Perlacka and
  5. L. L. Wrighta
  1. a Environ. Sci. Div., Oak Ridge National Lab., P.O. Box 2008, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6407
    b Engineering Extension Programs, Kansas State Univ., 1048 Rathbone Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506
    c National Renewable Energy Lab., 1617 Cole Blvd., Golden, CO 80401


Agricultural residues such as corn (Zea mays L.) stover are a potential feedstock for bioenergy and bio-based products that could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Collection of such residues must take into account concerns that residue removal could increase erosion, reduce crop productivity, and deplete soil carbon and nutrients. This article estimates where and how much corn stover can be collected sustainably in the USA using existing commercial equipment and estimates costs of that collection. Erosion constraints to collection were considered explicitly, and crop productivity and soil nutrient constraints were considered implicitly, by recognizing the value of residues for maintaining soil moisture and including the cost of fertilizer to replace nutrients removed. Possible soil carbon loss was not considered in the analysis. With an annual production of 196 million Mg of corn grain (∼9.2 billion bushels), the USA produces 196 million Mg of stover. Under current rotation and tillage practices, ∼30% of this stover could be collected for less than $33 Mg−1, taking into consideration erosion and soil moisture concerns and nutrient replacement costs. Wind erosion is a major constraint to stover collection. Analysis suggests three regions of the country (central Illinois, northern Iowa/southern Minnesota, and along the Platte River in Nebraska) produce sufficient stover to support large biorefineries with one million Mg per year feedstock demands and that if farmers converted to universal no-till production of corn, then over 100 million Mg of stover could be collected annually without causing erosion to exceed the tolerable soil loss.

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