Experiment 262 - Biofuel Comparison
Earlier work in the Cedar Creek Biodiversity Experiment (located within E-120) has shown that high-diversity perennial grassland ecosystems have the potential to provide locally grown energy sources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, increase soil fertility, increase soil organic matter, and provide other important services. Research done at other sites in the Midwest suggest that monocultures of perennial grasses (e.g. Switchgrass, Big Bluestem and Miscanthus x giganteus) are also potentially viable biofuel crops that may provide benefits similar to those of high-diversity prairie. Yet, there are no reports of well-replicated field experiments in which potential perennial grassland biofuel crops have been grown side-by-side so that direct comparisons of their potential costs and benefits can be made. Nor have there been studies of the potential impacts of the fertilization and irrigation that these crops may be subjected to in future agricultural systems. This long-term study of all the major proposed grassland biofuel crops will determine their (1) net energy yields, (2) nutrient leaching to groundwater, (3) soil organic matter and nitrogen dynamics, (4) disease susceptibility, (5) suitability for supporting diverse communities of native insects (including those of agricultural value as pollinators or biocontrol agents), and (6) resistance or susceptibility to invasion by other plant species. Eighty plots from the E-120 experiment will be cultivated to grow select combinations of nine prairie biofuel crop types in a well-replicated full-factorial fertilization and irrigation experiment.
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