"For now the only thing you can do with it is use it for direct combustion," Kling said. "But if it becomes a major crop other researchers could start working on the process of how to break it down," he said.
These are black locust seedlings at the University of Illinois.
Credit: Stephanie Henry, University of Illinois
"The EBI is working on how to get the sugars out of plants and how to turn those to alcohols. It is a very tough thing to do. It's typically been tough to break down the biomass in woody plants to make it useful for alcohol production. Our plan is to be able to take anything we grow and convert it into a drop-in fuel."
Kling said he and his team's role in the EBI's feedstock production/agronomy program, is to improve the production aspects of bioenergy crops. While other researchers in the program have evaluated miscanthus, switchgrass, and prairie cord grass, Kling is examining which short-rotation woody crops grow best in the Midwest.
"Robinia pseudoacacia is showing great potential as a biomass crop for Midwestern energy production, out-yielding the next closest species by nearly three-fold," Kling said. "We picked the best crops and moved those forward. Other crops may catch up, but black locust was the fastest out of the gate. We will pursue other crops as well for a number of years, but we want to move to the next step which is on to improved selections."
As part of the initial study, two-year old seedlings were planted in the spring of 2010, grown over the summers of 2010 and 2011, and were then coppiced in the winter of 2011-2012. By coppicing the plants after a period of growth, or cutting the plants back from a single stem just a few inches from the ground, Kling explained that this process allows the plant to grow back with multiple stems coming from the base and shoots coming up from underground root systems.
"Black locust is effective at colonizing an area, because it freely branches like that," Kling said. "It's a good candidate for this kind of treatment, but not all plants will tolerate this process. It forces the plants to essentially grow up as shrubs, with more frequent harvests. By planting much closer together and causing them to branch like that, you are able to fill up available space, intercept light more quickly, and use the field resources more efficiently."
Researchers assumed they would harvest 3 to 5 years after coppicing, which is comparable to woody crops such as the willow. "After that first coppicing in February 2012, and then after last year's very early spring, the black locust was growing quite rapidly. It was already a foot tall when we had that freeze in the middle of April, which froze them back to the ground. They began to regrow and put out new shoots in May. By the end of last season, the plants were nearly equivalent to the first two years' growth," he said.
This spring, a preliminary check on the black locust crops, which included harvesting 3 plants from the edge of the field, produced a yield of 12 to 13 mega grams per hectare (Mg ha-1), which exceeded what was produced over the first two years' growth, Kling said.
This rapid growth is what distinguished the black locust from other woody plants in the study.
"We are now looking at harvesting every 2 years rather than every 3 to 5 years as we first assumed," Kling explained. "This would allow producers to get some payback a lot quicker from their investment."
Based on these encouraging findings, Kling said two new experiments were started this spring, through the EBI, both looking at different germplasm for black locust crops. In the first, Kling said seedlings were ordered from 10 different commercial sources across 8 states.
"We wanted to sample as much commercial germplasm as we could to see if some are faster growing," he said. "For example, in Hungary, with appropriate selection, researchers were able to improve yield by approximately 25 percent compared to unimproved black locust. We're certainly in our infancy yet in terms of trying to improve and select for improved yield, but you've got to start somewhere and looking at different germplasm sources is one way to do that."
The second experiment involved obtaining seed sources internationally through the USDA, including seeds from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Iran. Seeds were also taken from the site of a remediated quarry area in Vermillion County where they found native black locust growing.
The seeds and seedlings for the two new evaluations were treated in greenhouses over the winter, and then planted in EBI fields this spring. Kling said he and the other researchers will evaluate whether to coppice the plants at the end of 1 or 2 years.
"Illinois has a lot of land that is subpar for corn and soybeans, such as the southern part of state and northern parts of the state along rivers. Black locust could be cultivated along some of that area in large acreage. This would be well-suited to smaller producers who want to generate some of their own fuel," he said. "We do have some producers out there who are looking at alternatives, and there are a lot of farmers who have riparian areas that could potentially grow black locust as a minor crop, in central Illinois we're not going to see 100-acre lots of black locust growing, though."
Kling and his team will present the findings from their evaluations at the EBI Feedstock Symposium program in August.
The Energy Biosciences Institute is a public-private collaboration in which bioscience and biological techniques are being applied to help solve the global energy challenge. The partnership, funded with $500 million for 10 years from the energy company BP, includes researchers from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Details about the EBI can be found on the website: http://www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org.
Stephanie Henry | EurekAlert!
Open-access article on Mexican bean beetles offers control tips
03.02.2016 | Entomological Society of America
Improved harvest for small farms thanks to naturally cloned crops
29.01.2016 | Universität Zürich
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
11.02.2016 | Life Sciences
11.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
11.02.2016 | Earth Sciences