Alternative cropping systems for cellulosic ethanol production

UW-Madison and Michigan St. University were recently awarded a grant from the Department of Energy to establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. The focus of the GLBRC is to overcome the processing bottleneck when converting cellulose to ethanol. However, a significant thrust of this project is ‘sustainability’, which to us means understanding tradeoffs in the ability of biofuel cropping systems to perform ecosystem services, including not only provisioning services like biomass production, but also supporting services like C sequestration and nutrient retention, regulating services such as water purification and climate stabilization, and the cultural services of wildlife habitat, aesthetic enjoyment, and biodiversity. We are currently collaborating with Dr. Phil Robertson and others from MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station LTER to measure these changes in various cropping systems of variable species diversity.

With Dr. Mark Renz I’m working on a project that complements our GLBRC research by assessing the sustainability of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) production on six farms in Southwestern Wisconsin. The use of switchgrass and other native warm-season grasses is of great interest in Wisconsin. However, we lack information about proper management practices for the establishment and growth of switchgrass. This project seeks to fill that gap in addition to assessing how such management practices affect key ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, soil stability, and nutrient loss. In another effort directed toward this end, I recently served as lead PI on a proposal submitted to USDA-DOE to examine how the landscape context, including diversity and configuration of cropping systems in watersheds, influences these ecosystem services.

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