The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) mandated aggressive biofuel production targets for the United States. Meeting those goals will require a new agricultural mindset that effectively balances concerns about economic viability with an ambitious focus on sustainability.
One of the greatest impediments to sustainable biomass production involves the effects of nitrogen fertilizer use; agricultural soil management practices—particularly fertilization—accounted for approximately 68% of U.S. nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in 2008. Furthermore, because corn crops do not use nitrogen efficiently, runoff from fertilization of corn crops is a significant source of non-point water pollution. What if you could convert those losses into recoverable resources for biomass feedstock production? For example, what if you could take underproductive acreage such as crop edges and riparian/roadway buffers and increase their potential biomass production capability? Those efforts and reuse of impaired water and entrained nutrients could potentially double U.S. harvestable biomass production.
Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory are exploring a systems approach that treats agricultural, energy and environmental sectors as components of a unified system. Based on their analysis, in-situ capture and use of nutrient-enriched water runoff from cropland for combined fertilization and irrigation of biomass crops in buffer strips can (1) boost biomass productivity and improve the use of nitrogen fertilizers at the farm scale and (2) improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions—improving the sustainability of both cellulosic biomass crops and grain crops. Through field testing, tool development and model validation, Argonne’s proposed new productive landscape concepts demonstrate that it is possible to balance productivity and sustainability at the watershed scale.
H. Ssegane, C. Zumpf, M.C. Negri, P. Campbell, J.P. Heavey, and T.A. Volk, "The economics of growing shrub willow as a bioenergy buffer on agricultural fields: A case study in the Midwest Corn Belt," Biofpr (2016) (Cover Story)
H. Ssegane and M.C. Negri, "An Integrated Landscape Designed for Commodity and Bioenergy Crops for a Tile-Drained Agricultural Watershed," Journal of Environmental Quality (2016).
H. Ssegane, M.C. Negri, J. Quinn, and M. Urgun-Demirtas, "Multifunctional landscapes: Site characterization and field-scale design to incorporate biomass production into an agricultural system," Biomass & Bioenergy 80:179-90 (2015).