Napiergrass: A potential biofuel crop for the sunny Southeast

Sep 27, 2012 by Dennis O'brien
Napiergrass: A potential biofuel crop for the sunny Southeast
In research plots in Shellman, Georgia, geneticist Bill Anderson measures the height of napiergrass, one of the prime candidates for biofuels production in the southeastern United States. Anderson and his team are working toward developing biomass crops for producing biofuels in this region of the country. Credit: Peggy Greb

A grass fed to cattle throughout much of the tropics may become a biofuel crop that helps the nation meet its future energy needs, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist.

Napiergrass (Pennisetum purpureum) is fairly drought-tolerant, grows well on marginal lands, and filters nutrients out of runoff in riparian areas, according to William Anderson, a geneticist in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Unit in Tifton, Ga. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of developing new sources of bioenergy.

Government mandates call for production of up to 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. While much of that will come from grain ethanol, 21 billion gallons is expected to be derived from other crop-based .

As part of a nationwide search for alternatives, Anderson and his colleagues compared napiergrass with several other candidate feedstocks in a study to see how they would fare in head-to-head competition. The researchers grew energy cane, napiergrass, and giant reed for four years and compared biomass yields and soil nutrient requirements.

Joseph Knoll, a post-doctoral researcher in Anderson's laboratory, led the research effort. The team included Timothy Strickland and Robert Hubbard, ARS scientists with the agency's Southeast Regional Watershed Research Unit in Tifton, and Ravindra Malik of Albany State University in Albany, Ga.

With sunny skies and long , farms and forests in the Southeastern United States are expected to play a major role in providing biofuel crops. The researchers' findings, along with others, show that napiergrass could be a viable biofuel crop in the Southeast's southern tier. It is not as cold-tolerant as switchgrass, but does offer advantages, such as continuing to produce biomass until the first frost.

The researchers are continuing to study napiergrass with an eye toward improving yields, usable fiber content, and disease resistance. They are also evaluating production systems that use chicken litter, synthetic fertilizer, and winter cover crops, as well as different irrigation levels, harvest times and planting dates. Preliminary findings in those studies show yields are sufficient without irrigation, and that there is little difference in yield when poultry litter is used instead of synthetic fertilizers.

Explore further: Sieving for genes: Developmental regulation of important plant phloem components discovered

More information: Read more about this and other bioenergy research in the September 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive… p12/biofuels0912.htm

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sorghum eyed as a southern bioenergy crop

Sep 17, 2012

Sweet sorghum is primarily grown in the United States as a source of sugar for syrup and molasses. But the sturdy grass has other attributes that could make it uniquely suited to production as a bioenergy ...

Sunn hemp shows promise as biofuel source

Jan 04, 2012

Work by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that farmers in the Southeast could use the tropical legume sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) in their crop rotations by harvesting the ...

A new tool for improving switchgrass

Jul 27, 2010

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed a new tool for deciphering the genetics of a native prairie grass being widely studied for its potential as a biofuel. The genetic map of switchgrass, published ...

New Switchgrass Germplasm Collected in Florida

Nov 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators have collected 46 new populations of switchgrass in Florida, adding valuable new accessions to the germplasm collection of this ...

Biofuels: More than just ethanol

Apr 05, 2007

As the United States looks to alternate fuel sources, ethanol has become one of the front runners. Farmers have begun planting corn in the hopes that its potential new use for corn will be a new income source. What many ...

Recommended for you

Getting a jump on plant-fungal interactions

Jul 29, 2014

Fungal plant pathogens may need more flexible genomes in order to fully benefit from associating with their hosts. Transposable elements are commonly found with genes involved in symbioses.

User comments : 0