Friday, May 22, 2009

Biomass: A Time to Plant

It is time for biomass producers to plant their crops, so that feedstock supply will be ready when the energy plants are ready to go. Many bioenergy skeptics have expressed doubts whether there will be enough biomass to support a meaningful bioenergy industry -- at whatever scale.

These skeptics are clearly unaware of the potential of switchgrass.
A number of studies assume yields as low as two to four tons per acre for switchgrass, and rather than incorporating yield increases from breeding, many of these studies hold yields virtually flat into the future.

More recently, a highly regarded biofuel study co-authored by Sandia National Labs used a conservative six tons of biomass per acre for energy grasses - similar to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

.....Proprietary varieties sold under the company's Blade Energy Crops brand were consistently the highest yielding varieties across multiple trial locations, with average yields reaching nearly 10 tons.

The highest yield was reported in California, where a Ceres experimental variety produced 19 tons per acre. Ceres switchgrass product manager Cory Christensen, Ph.D., said that "this result demonstrates the genetic potential of switchgrass grown under favorable conditions." _BiofuelDaily
Biotechnology has barely started to work at increasing yields of biomass crops. All the tired assumptions of academics and bureaucrats will be fodder for jocularity, when the true scope of bio-potential is realised.

The are already planting miscanthus in Kentucky, deliberately scaling up planted acreage in preparation for near-term bioenergy projects.

In Pennsylvania they are planting a poplar-cottonwood hybrid that can grow 6 to 12 feet a year. All of that on marginal lands not fit for crops.

Plantations of fast growing willow trees are being planted in northern New York state, for a biomass plant scheduled to begin production in 5 to 7 years.

Biomass can be used alone or can be co-fired with fossil fuels in conventional power plants. Most of North America is fit for growing significant biomass for bioenergy. The idea is to plan now for a bioenergy future. Biological organisms can be taught to produce much more biomass and bioenergy than currently possible.

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