The Bioenergy Feedstocks session was a good value during the AG CONNECT Expo last week in Orlando, Fla. There were three main topics: winter and double crops, perennial energy grasses and the types of public policy needed to ensure second generation biofuels.
Dr. Tom Richard, Associate Professor with Pennsylvania State University, kicked off the session discussing the agricultural value of adding winter crops or double crops to a farmer’s rotation. An example of a winter crop that would be suitable for Pennsylvania is winter rye. Once harvested, the crop could be used for cellulosic ethanol. An example of a double crop would be planning a grain such as barley in the spring followed by a summer crop such as corn or soybean. Richard noted that when most people do a biomass potential study, they don’t factor in winter crops and double crops, thus reducing the amount of biofuels that could be produced on the same amount of land currently in production.
Dr. John Erickson, Associate Professor from the University of Florida, is an expert in studying perennial grasses for their potential as energy crops. These can include sugarcane, energycane, elephant grasses, miscanthus, giant reed, switchgrass and sorghum. In early trials, energycane and elephant grasses are doing well. Erickson also noted that the grasses tend to help improve soil quality and water use (they use less) and that the Southeast is likely to be the epicenter of cellulosic development.
Of particular note during Antonio Bento’s presentation, who is an Associate Professor at Cornell University is that through his economic studies of biofuels, found that corn-ethanol is in insignificant cause of higher food prices. The true cause is the country’s dependence on foreign oil. He also found that corn-ethanol is not a good indicator of increased carbon dioxide through indirect land use. He also stressed that market price will be the utlimate indicator of the success of biofuels.
Ultimately, the session can be summed up with this key thought shared by all the speakers, “Biofuels may offer advantages but the magnitude depends on how they are grown,” said Bento.