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Enabling sustainable landscape design for continual improvement of operating bioenergy supply systems

DoE Bioenergy Technologies Office / 2015-2020. Smart landscape placement of perennial biomass and bioenergy crops and reduces fertilizer inputs where not needed can improve the economic and environmental metrics of production systems.
Google Earth image of Guthrie County near Logan, Iowa, during the dry July of 2012. Water stress limited growth, as can be seen in the picture. In such cases, unused nitrogen due to low crop growth is at risk of  leachig and gaseous losses when the soil become wet in late fall or spring. First and second order streams transport nitrogen and other pollutants to major rivers. Buffer strips and biomass crops can intercept a fraction of the nitrogen.

Google Earth image of Guthrie County near Logan, Iowa, during the dry July of 2012. Water stress limited growth, as can be seen in the picture. In such cases, unused nitrogen due to low crop growth is at risk of leachig and gaseous losses when the soil become wet in late fall or spring. First and second order streams transport nitrogen and other pollutants to major rivers. Buffer strips and biomass crops can intercept a fraction of the nitrogen.

Penn State is part of team lead by Antares Group, Inc (Lanham, Maryland) that will design and implement sustainable bioenergy systems based on cellulosic feedstock. Specifically, the project addresses the stable supply of diverse fedstock (corn stover, switchgrass, and other warm season grasses) for three cellulosic biorefineries in Iowa and Kansas, while increasing both profitability and ecological benefits in those areas. The project will incorporate a broad range of conservation practices, develop and validate advanced landscape management tools, and collect data on key sustainability indicators and feedstock logistics performance.

Through two graduate students working under the supervision of Dr. Tom Richard and Dr. Armen Kemanian at Penn State and in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Lab and Idaho National Lab, Penn State will research pathways to establish sustainable landscapes and sustainable biomass supply chains. The study area in Iowa represents the intensively managed landscapes of the Midwest, dominated by corn and soybean, that can benefit from the incorporation of biomass crops in the landscape. We seek to expand this work to other heavily altered ecosystems including the Chesapeake Bay, where biomass in the form of buffer strips or full strategically placed fields can produce clean energy that cleans the water and improves the environment.

The project is funded by a $9 million grant from the Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office.