Sunday, September 04, 2011

Expanding Biofuel Crops to Marginal Cropland Flood Plains

Scientists and engineers are devising a wide range of ways for converting biomass into fuels, chemicals, feeds, and materials. There has been some controversy over whether there is enough cropland available for producing a significant amount of biomass and biofuel crops. But if bioenergy producers can open their minds to new types of crops and crop growing, on marginal lands, the limitations on cropland begin to fall away.
Shibu Jose, director for MU’s Center for Agroforestry, is proposing that biomass crops be grown and harvested along the flood plains of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. He says converting less than 1% of the 116 million acres of “marginally productive” cropland on the flood plains could create a corridor of sustainable biomass and biofuel production.

Food crops planted there – typically corn and soybeans – are prone to failure because of flooding and soil erosion. Jose’s proposal involves replacing those crops with seven types of plants: cottonwood and willow trees, switchgrass and miscanthus grass, energy cane, and sweet and biomass sorghum.

All except sorghum are perennials, so farmers wouldn't have to replant year after year.

Jose says this is perhaps the most productive use of some of the flood plains.

“If you plant the trees or grasses, it keeps the soil in place for 10, 15, 20 years,” he says. “Even if there is a flood, they stay in place.”

...Under Jose’s plan, area farmers would cultivate and harvest one or more of the proposed crops. Small rural biorefineries would then collect the biomass, grind the feedstock and make pellets or extract sugar out of them. The product would then ship to "hubs," larger plants that ferment the pellets into electricity or biofuel, such as butanol, green diesel and jet fuel. _Hay&Forage
Algae can grow in saltwater, brackish water, wastewater, or freshwater. Halophytes can grow in salty soils unsuitable for regular crops. Plant genetic engineers have just begun creating biomass crops which can thrive on marginal lands. Whatever limitations most persons may think exist on the potential for growth of bioenergy crops, are more in their limited imaginations than in reality.

It is not a zero sum world. It is long past time for most humans to be suffering under the limited vision of the people who would be their governmental and thought leaders and controllers.

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