Skip to Main Content

The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Switchgrass selection as a "model" bioenergy crop: a history of the process
Year: 2010
Author(s): Wright, L., Turhollow, A.
Source Title: Biomass and Bioenergy
Source Type: Journal
pages: 851–868
Original Publication:  
Abstract: A review of several publications of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biofuels Feedstock Development Program and final reports from the herbaceous crop screening trials show that technology, environmental, and funding issues influenced the decision to focus on a single herbaceous “model” crop species. Screening trials funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in the late 1980s to early 1990s assessed thirty-four herbaceous species on a wide range of soil types at thirty-one different sites spread over seven states in crop producing regions of the U.S. Several species, including sorghums, reed canarygrass, wheatgrasses, and other crops, were identified as having merit for further development. Six of the seven institutions performing the screening included switchgrass among the species recommended for further development in their region and all recommended that perennial grasses be given high research priority. Reasons for the selection of switchgrass included demonstration of relatively high, reliable productivity across a wide geographical range, suitability for marginal quality land, low water and nutrient requirements, and other positive environmental attributes. Crop screening results, economic and environmental assessments by the Biofuels Feedstock Development Program staff, and Department of Energy funding limitations all contributed to the decision to further develop only switchgrass as a “model” or “prototype” species in 1991. The following ten year focus on development of switchgrass as a bioenergy crop proved the value of focusing on a single “model” herbaceous crop. The advancements and attention gained were sufficient to give government leaders, policymakers, farmers, and biofuel industry developers the confidence that lignocellulosic crops could support an economically viable and environmentally sustainable biofuel industry in the U.S.