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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Development of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) as a bioenergy feedstock in the United States
Year: 2005
Author(s): McLaughlin, S. B., Kszos, L. A.
Source Title: Biomass & Bioenergy
Source Type: Journal
pages: 515-535
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: A 10-year US Department of Energy-sponsored research program designed to evaluate and develop switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a native perennial warm-season grass, as a dedicated energy crop is reviewed. The programmatic objectives were to identify the best varieties and management practices to optimize productivity, while developing an understanding of the basis for long-term improvement of switchgrass through breeding and sustainable production in conventional agroecosysterns. This research has reduced the projected production cost of switchgrass by about 25% ($8-9 Mg-1) through yield increases of about 50% achieved through selection of the best regionally adapted varieties; through optimizing cutting frequency and timing; and by reducing the level (by about 40%) and timing of nitrogen fertilization. Breeding research has made further gains in productivity of switchgrass that exceed the historical rate of yield improvement of corn. Studies of soil carbon storage under switchgrass indicate significant carbon sequestration will occur in soils that will improve soil productivity and nutrient cycling and can substantially augment greenhouse gas reductions associated with substituting renewable energy for fossil energy. Collaborative research with industry has included fuel production and handling in power production, herbicide testing and licensing, release of new cultivars, and genetic modifications for chemical coproduct enhancement. Economically based life cycle analyses based on this research suggest that switchgrass produced for energy will compete favorably both as an agricultural crop and as fuel for industry.