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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Historical perspective on how and why switchgrass was selected as a "model" high-potential energy crop
Year: 2007
Author(s): Wright, L. L.
Source Title:
Source Type: Other
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: A review of several publications of the Biofuels Feedstock Development Program, and final reports from the herbaceous crop screening trials suggests that there were several technical and non-technical factors that influenced the decision to focus on one herbaceous "model" crop species. The screening trials funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s assessed a wide range of about 34 species with trials being conducted on a wide range of soil types in 31 different sites spread over seven states in crop producing regions of the U.S. While several species, including sorghums, reed canarygrass and other crops, were identified as having merit for further development, the majority of institutions involved in the herbaceous species screening studies identified switchgrass as having high priority for further development. Six of the seven institutions included switchgrass among the species recommended for further development in their region and all institutions recommended that perennial grasses be given high research priority. Reasons for the selection of switchgrass included the demonstration of relatively high, reliable productivity across a wide geographical range, suitability for marginal quality land, low water and nutrient requirements, and positive environmental attributes. Economic and environmental assessments by Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biofuels Feedstock Development Program staff together with the screening project results, and funding limitations lead to making the decision to further develop only switchgrass as a "model" or "prototype" species in about 1990. This paper describes the conditions under which the herbaceous species were screened, summarizes results from those trials, discusses the various factors which influenced the selection of switchgrass, and provides a brief evaluation of switchgrass with respect to criteria that should be considered when selecting and developing a crop for biofuels and bioproducts.
Publisher: Oak Ridge National Laboratory ORNL/TM-2007/109