Corn Stover Could Generate Electricity

Cindy Zimmerman

Corn biomass residue. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Two new studies show that generating energy from corn stover biomass could create a new market for farmers and increase the value of ethanol by reducing its overall carbon footprint. The studies are based on the premise that the crop residue left behind in the fields after corn to be used for ethanol is harvested.

Iowa-based Regional Strategic, Ltd. examined the economic impact of collecting, processing, and delivering corn stover byproducts of ethanol – the stalks, leaves, and stems of corn plants – for use in generating electricity. The stover is compressed into biomass pellets that can be burned like coal in existing power plants, reducing CO2 emissions and increasing renewable energy supplies. This is similar to the use of wood pellets in European power plants.

The studies were commissioned by Larksen LLC, an affiliate of Trestle Energy, a California-based biofuel company specializing in low carbon production system. Larksen estimates that corn grown for ethanol in the six major ethanol-producing states “could yield roughly 44 million tons of harvestable corn stover per year. It is conceivable that this stover could replace around 37 million tons of coal used for electricity generation.”

However, the economic studies are based on harvesting all leftover crop residue from corn going to ethanol production and do not appear to take into consideration the conservation benefits of corn stover and crop residue, much of which is left in the fields for no-till or low-tillage farming operations.

Link to report summary.

Biofuels, Corn, Energy, Ethanol