Study provides comparison of biomass crop growth in the Midwest

By Chris Hanson | December 26, 2013

Dennis Pennington, bioenergy educator at Michigan State University Extension, recently reviewed a study on regional biomass feedstocks from the University of Illinois.

Researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois evaluated woody and grassy biomass feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production at Illinois. Twenty-one species of short-rotation woody biomass were included in the study. The top five performing species were black locust, northern catalpa, flameleaf sumac, silver maple and sycamore. The prairie grasses were from the plot trials planted in spring 2010, which were harvested and measured in both 2011 and 2012. The top performing grassy plants were three various types of switchgrass and Scout Indiangrass.

The study is a valuable piece of work since it is rare to find the multitude of crops represented all conducted at once site at the same time, Pennington said. The study provides an idea of how each crop compares to each other and does not require to obtain data from multiple studies that could have been from different sites, years, weather conditions and management objectives, he added. Furthermore, the findings were applicable to Michigan due to its proximity to Illinois and its similar growing conditions.

Michigan has two distinct regions for growing different types of biomass, Pennington explained. The northern region is characterized by woody biomass and wood-based industries, such as mills and logging, while the southern region has the infrastructure to handle row crop commodities. In terms of cellulosic ethanol crops, it is likely that farmers in southern Michigan will plant mostly warm season, perennial grasses, while northern landowners may choose woody species such as hybrid poplar, willow and sycamore, Pennington added.

In addition to cellulosic ethanol producers, the study could be potentially valuable to farmers. When farmers are asked to produce cellulosic biomass crops, they will seek studies that are well-suited for their particular farm, Pennington said. Data from similar climate and soils will be very valuable to them as we move forward in the growing and supplying biomass, he added.