SDSU has won a major grant as part of a $1 million project to study precision conservation practices to use in growing biomass crops for energy.
Mark Rey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, announced the award June 22 at SDSU. It is a Conservation Innovation Grant available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The funds will help SDSU researchers evaluate conservation practices while growing a variety of cellulosic feedstocks - crop materials such as cornstalks or switchgrass that could be processed to make cellulosic ethanol.
The federal grant of just under $500,000 is matched by a $500,000 contribution from SDSU, bringing the total for the project to $987,000.
Ethanol production in South Dakota is currently based on corn grain using a dry or wet milling process. But over the next three to five years, experts believe that cellulosic ethanol will enter biofuels markets, based on enzymatic processing of pretreated biomass. Corn stover will be the initial feedstock of choice in that process, but research at SDSU and elsewhere is exploring other feedstocks such as perennial grasses.
Gregg Carlson, SDSU's interim director of the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service, said the new research project grew partly out of discussions between SDSU and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council concerning the future direction of ethanol research. Homegrown bioenergy is the cornerstone to the United States' future energy security, Carlson said.
Executive Director Lisa Richardson of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council said the project anticipates some of the major questions that will arise as farmers began harvesting biomass to make fuels.
"Production agriculture will grow the food and the fuel this country needs. But it's important as we're at this incredible paradigm shift, that production agriculture has the sound science to know what they can produce, how much corn stover they can remove, how they can harvest it, when is the best time to harvest it. All those questions are yet to be answered," Richardson said. "We know that our land-grant university has the capability of answering those questions for our producers in the state."
The project will evaluate precision conservation practices applied to typical landscapes in Eastern South Dakota that are most likely to be involved in intensive biofuels production. The research will be carried out in the fields of area producers who cooperate in the project.
Rey said the study will measure biomass and grain production, biomass removal, biomass energy potential, residue cover, soil quality, carbon balance, erosion and sediment loss potential, nutrient distribution within the landscape, and leaching potential.
The work also will compare contrasting management practices, including variations in biomass removal, and landscape-specific locations of biomass crops including prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and corn. The evaluations will be used to develop site-specific technical guidelines, fact sheets, and technical specifications for use by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the SDSU Cooperative Extension Service.
Gary Lemme, dean of SDSU's College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, said the project builds on SDSU's heritage as an early leader in the research on how to make corn-based ethanol.
"The true winners of this grant are the people of South Dakota," Lemme said. "It's every citizen who benefits from energy security. It's our corn producers. It's everyone who enjoys our natural resources."
Professor Thomas Schumacher in SDSU's Department of Plant Science is the project director. The co-director is Paul Skiles of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
Sue Blodgett, head of SDSU's Department of Plant Science, said partnerships are one of the factors that led to the SDSU team's success in securing funding for the research. Those include collaborations with the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and among different departments in SDSU's College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Blodgett said.
SDSU faculty members who are project collaborators include professor David Clay, professor Gregg Carlson, Distinguished Professor Douglas Malo, professor Todd Trooien, professor Gerald Warmann, professor Arvid Boe, and professor Vance Owens. In addition four producers from eastern South Dakota will be selected as project collaborators based on interest, suitability of land for study, and eligibility for EQIP.
EQIP, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, is a voluntary conservation program that offers financial and technical help to assist eligible participants install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land.
Source: SDSU AgBio Communications