MU Grant Studies Biomass Growth on Marginal Lands

University of Missouri (MU) researchers have received a $5.4 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to continue its studies on how non-food biofuel crops grow in marginal land along floodplains. This is an area where crops cannot typically thrive.  he project is part of a $125 million international project to study how use marginal lands to to grow biofuel crops for advanced biofuels.

“In the 10 states along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, 100 million acres of marginalized agricultural land is unused or underutilized often due to frequent flooding,” said Shibu Jose, H.E. Garrett Endowed Professor in the School of Natural Resources and director of the MU Center for Agroforestry. “If farmers can plant just 10 percent of marginal floodplain land with crops designated for use in biofuels, we can produce 6 to 8 billion gallons of liquid fuel annually. Planting this land with crops designated for biofuels would have little to no effect on the food supply.”

Several trials are being planned including one that will test 15 types of biomass sorghum and 15 types of switchgrass. Both crops need less water than traditional crops and less care including less fertilizer. Other advantages of these crops is that the root system reduces erosion and water pollution by filtering water as it runs into streams and rivers. Ultimately, the team will identify which varieties grow best under flood and drought conditions and which crops grow best in various soil types.

Many energy producers are looking at biomass as a biofuel and electricity source. Biomass can be converted into pellets and then the pellets can be burned for electricity or produced into biofuels.  Jose envisions a network of farmers producing biomass and shipping it to local pellet-producers, who will ship the pellets to refineries.

“We need to build a network of pellet producers because transportation costs need to be low enough that farmers can still profit off of growing crops for biofuel,” said Jose.“With the smaller condensed pellets, we can transport a great amount of energy at a low cost.”

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