DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2018-01-22 09:50:36
    • Article ID: 688195

    Biofuels Feedstock Study Supports Billion-Ton Estimate

    Field trial data available online

    • This map shows the yield potential for herbaceous nonfood crops, including mixed grasses grown on Conservation Reserve Program land, energycane, Giant Miscanthus, sorghum and switchgrass, that could be used to produced biofuels. The estimates were based in part on the analysis of up to seven years of production data gathered through the Regional Feedstock Partnership, established by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Sun Grant Initiative.

    • This map shows the yield potential for woody biomass, including and popular and shrub willow, that could be used to produce biofuels.

    • Field trials were conducted for nine potential bioenergy crops at designated locations across the continental United States and Hawaii through the Regional Feedstock Partnership, established by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Sun Grant Initiative.

    Can farmers produce at least 1 billion tons of biomass per year that can be used as biofuels feedstock?

    That’s the question that researchers are trying to answer, according to North Central Regional Sun Grant Center Director Vance Owens. The goal is to replace 30 percent of the petroleum consumed in the United States with biofuels.

    Analysis of up to seven years of production data gathered through the Regional Feedstock Partnership, established by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Sun Grant Initiative, supports the U.S. Department of Energy billon-ton estimate. That amount could be available annually by 2030.

    “Regional field trials were conducted for the most promising bioenergy feedstocks,” explained Owens, who worked on switchgrass production before becoming Sun Grant director. “Based on these numbers and other research we’ve done, we would still see over a billion tons available per year as the bioeconomy continues to develop.”

    South Dakota State University was the lead institution for the more than $20 million project which began in 2007. The partnership was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office. The project involved researchers from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture, 35 land-grant universities, Heidelberg University and several industry partners, as well as Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory.

    This project helps fill an important information gap in the quest to produce biofuels from nonfood crops.

    Results published, data available online

    Field trial results and yield projections for herbaceous crops, including switchgrass, energycane, mixed perennial grasses on Conservation Reserve Program land, giant miscanthus and sorghum, as well as the woody feedstocks poplar and shrub willow, are available online in the January issue of GCB Bioenergy. An article on environmental mapping of biomass resources in the continental United States will also be published in that issue.

    This partnership came about as a direct result of the efforts of SDSU Vice President Emeritus for Research and Economic Development Kevin Kephart and others in Sun Grant, Owens explained. More than 130 peer-reviewed papers, including field trial results and yield projects related to corn stover, have been published through this project.

    The raw data from the field trials will be available for public use and can be accessed at Knowledge Discovery Framework at the U.S. Department of Energy website. “The ramifications of this research will be much greater due to free data access,” he said.

    Study duration increases value of data, modeling

    The duration of this study is unique, Owens pointed out. “Typically these projects last two to three years, but having trials in place for up to seven years is really important in terms of long-term yield potential.” For example, researchers were able to gather data about how potential biofuels crops reacted to the 2012 national drought and how they recovered in subsequent years in some instances. “Though annual crops suffer, perennials can manage through a one-year drought,” Owens explained. “Being able to see this was a tremendous advantage—and something we wouldn’t likely see with only a two-year study.”

    Among the herbaceous energy crops, field-scale trials using traditional agricultural equipment were conducted for switchgrass and mixed perennial grasses suitable for use on CRP land, while smaller individual plots were utilized for energycane and giant miscanthus due to a lack of vegetative planting materials for these species.

    “Crop potential varies by region,” Owens explained. “There’s not one that makes sense everywhere; it’s more of a localized environment.” The nationwide yield potential maps track which crops are best suited to a particular area.

    “For example, switchgrass is more productive than miscanthus in some of the northern regions because miscanthus is not as winter hardy. On the other hand, energycane is well adapted and highly productive in the Deep South” he said. In the future, the researchers would like to do side-by-side comparisons of different species across multiple environments to better understand their yield potential.

    The model used to estimate yield potential, known as PRISM-ELM, included yield-limiting factors, such as water availability, low-winter and high-summer temperature response, soil pH, salinity, and drainage. Modelers and agronomists from each species group met periodically to exchange information and review yield potential maps.

     “This is unique to have input from all the parties involved, which then helps makes the models more reliable,” Owens said. The model for perennial grasses, for instance, had to be adjusted based on the plants’ ability to develop roots deep in the soil profile.

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    Exploring Blended Materials Along Compositional Gradients

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    JSA Announces 10 New Graduate Fellows

    JSA Announces 10 New Graduate Fellows

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    Argonne National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will receive $4.5 million over three years for research aimed at capturing carbon dioxide directly from air and converting it to useful products by artificial photosynthesis.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

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    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

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    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

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    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

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    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

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    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.


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