In a 4-year University of Illinois study that compared miscanthus, switchgrass, and mixed prairie species to typical corn-corn-soybean rotations, each of the perennial crops were highly efficient at reducing nitrogen losses, with miscanthus having the greatest yield.
This is an aerial of the bioenergy farm near South First Street in Champaign.
Credit: University of Illinois photographer David Riecks
"Our results clearly demonstrate that environmental nitrogen fluxes from row-crop agriculture can be greatly reduced after the establishment of perennial biofuel crops," said U of I postdoctoral research associate Candice Smith. "Because of the establishment variability, we were able to compare annual row crops with perennial crops. Although in the first two years, nitrate leaching remained high in the non-established miscanthus crop, once a dense, productive crop was established in the second year of growth, nitrate leaching in tile drainage quickly decreased."
Smith said that this ability to reduce the loss of nitrogen into the environment will prove to be greatly beneficial.
"Intensive corn production with large fertilizer inputs leads to large losses of nitrogen into the environment, both through gas emissions of nitrous oxide and leaching of nitrate to surface waters through tile drainage systems," added Mark David, U of I biogeochemist. "Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas, and nitrate can contaminate drinking water supplies and leads to coastal ocean problems. The hypoxic zone that forms each summer in the Gulf of Mexico is a result of nitrate leaching from the tile-drained Corn Belt of the midwestern United States – a likely location for biofuel production," he said.
In the study, funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute, miscanthus, switchgrass, and mixed prairie species were compared against a typical corn-corn-soybean rotation. Harvested biomass and nitrogen, nitrous oxide emissions, and nitrate leaching in the mid-soil profile and through tile drainage lines were all measured.
The researchers found that the perennial crops quickly reduced nitrate leaching in the mid-soil profile as well as from tile lines. "By year four each of the perennial crops had small losses," Smith said. "Nitrous oxide emissions also were much smaller in the perennial crops--including switchgrass, which was fertilized with nitrogen, while prairie and miscanthus were not. Overall, nitrogen levels were higher for the corn and soybean treatment as well as switchgrass, but were lower for prairie and miscanthus. Prairie and miscanthus levels were lower due to harvest of the plant biomass (and nitrogen) each winter, with no fertilizer nitrogen additions to replace it, as occurred in corn and switchgrass," she said.
David added that the miscanthus and mixed prairie also had very wide carbon-to-nitrogen ratios in the harvested material -- as much as 257 to 1 for miscanthus. "Miscanthus efficiently moved nitrogen from leaves to root and rhizome systems after the growing season, where it could be used again the next year," David said. "The lower nitrogen level suggests that the small amount of nitrogen removed by harvest in prairie and miscanthus came from the large pool of soil nitrogen and/or nitrogen fixation. If the soil is the source, this could lead to depletion of this resource without fertilization. If microbial fixation supplied the nitrogen, this would be a more sustainable input," he said.
David said that although more research is needed to fully understand the nitrogen cycle in these new and exciting biofuel crops such as miscanthus, results from this study clearly show these crops have the potential to quickly and greatly reduce nitrogen losses that have important environmental effects, while providing a large biomass harvest.
"Reduced Nitrogen Losses after Conversion of Row Crop Agriculture to Perennial Biofuel Crops" was published in an issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality. In addition to Smith and David, Corey Mitchell, Michael Masters, Kristina Anderson-Teixeira, Carl Bernacchi, and Even DeLucia contributed to the research.
The Energy Biosciences Institute is a four-partner research collaboration that includes the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and BP, the energy company that funds the work. It is dedicated to applying the biological sciences to the challenges of producing sustainable, renewable energy for the world.
Debra Levey Larson | EurekAlert!
Six-legged livestock -- sustainable food production
11.05.2017 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen
Elephant Herpes: Super-Shedders Endanger Young Animals
04.05.2017 | Universität Zürich
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2017 | Life Sciences
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy