Iowa State Researchers Earn USDA Grant to Compare Bioenergy Cropping Systems
August 18th, 2011
AMES, Iowa — ISU researchers are comparing the economic potential and environmental impacts of bioenergy cropping systems to help policymakers and producers make informed land management decisions.
The project recently received a three-year, $725,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture to compare four feedstock production systems.
"This research will provide a practical framework for answering common questions about alternative cropping systems and their environmental impacts," said Michael Thompson, agronomy professor and one of the project's eight principal investigators.
Feedstock production systems included in the large-scale study are continuous corn, with and without a winter cover crop; reconstructed multispecies prairie plants, with and without fertilizer; and a conventional corn-soybean cash grain system for baseline comparison.
"By studying a range of production systems, we can gain new insights concerning the tradeoffs in optimizing bioenergy production with greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem health," Thompson said.
Specifically, researchers will be comparing and cataloging each system's potential for:
* biomass production, fossil-fuel replacement, and net energy returns
* reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased belowground carbon storage
* maintenance of soil quality and reduction of water-quality impacts of nutrient exports, and
* net economic return to biomass producers and the environment.
"We hypothesize diverse mixtures of perennial plants used as feedstocks could have energy efficiencies comparable to corn-based feedstock production with fewer detrimental impacts to the environment," Thompson said.
Results will be used to make predictions about the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of each feedstock production system on a landscape and regional scale.