Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Perennial biofuel crops' water consumption similar to corn

07.07.2015

Converting large tracts of the Midwest's marginal farming land to perennial biofuel crops carries with it some key unknowns, including how it could affect the balance of water between rainfall, evaporation and movement of soil water to groundwater.

In humid climates such as the U.S. Midwest, evaporation returns more than half of the annual precipitation to the atmosphere, with the remainder available to recharge groundwater and maintain stream flow and lake levels.


Michigan State University research shows that perennial crops' evapotranspiration did not differ greatly from corn -- a finding that contrasts sharply with earlier studies.

Courtesy of Michigan State University

A recent study from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and published in Environmental Research Letters looks at how efficiently "second generation" biofuel crops - perennial, non-food crops such as switchgrass or native grasses - use rainwater and how these crops affect overall water balance.

The study, led by Michigan State University professor of ecosystem ecology and GLBRC scientist Stephen Hamilton, is the first multi-year effort to compare the water use of conventional corn crops to the perennial cropping systems of switchgrass, miscanthus, native grasses, restored prairies and hybrid poplar trees.

"When we established the different cropping systems in 2008," Hamilton said, "we installed soil-water sensors at various depths through the root zone. We've been continuously monitoring the soil water content ever since."

Hamilton uses the soil-water sensors to measure the rate of evapotranspiration occurring within each cropping system. Evapotranspiration refers to the sum total of water lost while the plant is growing, either from transpiration, which is evaporation through the plant stem itself, or from water evaporated off of the plant's leaves or the ground. By measuring the amount of precipitation that has fallen against actual soil water content, it's possible to quantify the water lost to evapotranspiration while each crop is growing.

Hamilton's team reports that the perennial system's evapotranspiration did not differ greatly from corn - a finding that contrasts sharply with earlier studies that found particularly high perennial water use in areas with high water tables. Hamilton's study, however, took place in Michigan's temperate humid climate and on the kind of well-drained soil characteristic of marginal farming land.

"The message here," Hamilton said, "is that in many settings, perennials may not use more water. For well-drained soils in the upper Midwest at least, and probably for eastern North America in general, these results most likely apply, and water balance would not be adversely affected."

Though the study has clear implications for cellulosic, or second-generation, biofuel production in the Midwest, Hamilton says it touches more broadly on some of the expected effects of climate change as well.

Since the evapotranspiration rates of the study's cropping systems held steady across several years of varying precipitation levels, the study also suggests that crop evapotranspiration rates may not be as sensitive to climate change as is currently assumed.

"Our observation that plants use roughly the same amount of water regardless of water availability suggests that a warmer or longer growing season may have a relatively small effect on evapotranspiration and thus could affect landscape water balances less than we previously thought," Hamilton said. "Other changes in climate-driven aspects of the water cycle, such as intense rain events, less snow or shorter periods of ice cover on lakes, may have a much larger effect on groundwater, stream flow and lake levels."

###

Additional MSU scientists contributed to this research, including Phil Robertson, Mir Hussain, Ajay Bhardwaj and Bruno Basso.

This research was funded by the GLBRC.

Layne Cameron | EurekAlert!

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Cascading use is also beneficial for wood
11.12.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht The future of crop engineering
08.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>