USGS develops new method for mapping grasslands to demonstrate high potential for growing bioenergy crops with less environmental impact than corn

USGS scientists have developed a new method for mapping grasslands? that demonstrate high potential for growing biofuel? crops with relatively little energy input and environmental impact.

The pioneering investigation used remote sensing data from satellites to identify detailed areas of the Greater Platte River Basin (most of Nebraska, parts of adjacent states) that are best suited for producing cellulosic (from the cell walls of plants) biofuel derived from hardy switchgrass?, a native plant that grows wild or is easily cultivated. See more.

Fri, 07/06/2012

UW-Madison and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Collaborate on Grassland Management Project

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Leopold Wetland Management District (Portage, WI) is seeking new grassland management tools and partnering with researchers at University of Wisconsin – Madison to discover how cutting and harvest of vegetation may benefit waterfowl and humans. The collaborative effort seeks to identify whether grassland materials can be harvested in ecologically and environmentally sound ways and whether the materials are feasible as livestock feed and bedding, and biomass? for bioenergy?. See here for more information on this emerging research and outreach partnership. See here for aims and goals of the project.

Wed, 05/09/2012

New scientific reports shed light on potential benefits of renewable grass-based bioenergy in Wisconsin.

Two new reports by researchers in Wisconsin and Michigan illustrate how production of perennial non-forest biomass? can result in net economic and environmental benefits in Wisconsin. The reports, funded by the Environmental and Economic Research and Development Program of the state-wide energy utilities’ investor-funded Focus on Energy Program, provide evidence of the multiple advantages of perennial grass-based cropping systems. These benefits, the researchers find, extend from the level of individual farms to landscapes and entire communities of people and wildlife. The Wisconsin research team, based at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay and led by Matthew Dornbush, Professor of Biology, found grass-based biomass production was profitable and competitive with row crops on agriculturally marginal soils in the Lower Fox River Basin. They also found grass-dominated biomass production reduced phosphorus loading and soil erosion which are essential for much needed water quality improvement in the Lower Fox River Basin – an Area of Concern designated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. EPA as critically impaired. The Michigan research team, based at Michigan Technological University and led by Christopher Webster, Professor of Forestry and Environmental Science, recommends future biomass plantings include mixes of native plant species and different plant functional groups. This type of planned diversification of biomass plantings, the Michigan team finds, results in multiple benefits such as reduced invasions by undesirable plant species, decreased rates of plants disease, increased likelihood of sustainable high yields, and increased habitat for grassland birds and beneficial insects such as pollinators. Together, these two recent reports point to promising future scenarios where Wisconsin’s agricultural sector provides not only production value but also provides crucial improvement in environmental and ecological resources within the state and beyond.

For more information see:

Dornbush, M., et al. (2012). Maximizing ecological services and economic returns by targeted establishment of biomass grasslands? for electricity and heat generation in Wisconsin. Final Report. Environmental and economic research and development program, Focus on Energy, Madison, WI.
Link to Executive Summary
Link to full report

Webster, C., et al. (2011). Identifying trade-offs? between biomass production and biological diversity in Wisconsin’s forests and grasslands to meet tomorrows bioenergy? and biofuel? needs. Final Report. Environmental and economic research and development program, Focus on Energy, Madison, WI.
Link to Executive Summary
Link to full report

Focus on Energy

Wed, 05/09/2012

Wisconsin and Midwest leaders still committed to sustainable renewable energy through balance of biomass residuals, anaerobic digesters, and landscape perspective on natural resources protection.

Any visitor to the U.S. Midwest knows the region isn’t recognized for glorious mountains, warm weather or sunshine. It does, however, boast flat and vast plains, long stretches of grassland, and highly productive soil that allows it to produce an abundance of cereal crops.

To some, that’s an ideal scenario for growing a biomass? energy industry off the back end, and numerous industry experts are busy examining its viability and potential impacts. As with any emerging industry, there are some hurdles and kinks to be worked out, but there is a resounding consensus across the scientific community that Midwestern crop residue? and cattle manure will play a key role in the region’s energy future. In fact, one recently published, USDA-backed study has determined that biomass alone could be used to produce 15 percent of the Midwest’s electricity... Read More.

Tue, 02/21/2012

UW engineering professor and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientist seeks pathway to drop-in cellulosic fuel using synthetic biology and E. coli bacteria.

In August, President Obama announced that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will invest up to $510 million over the next three years to produce biofuels for aviation and marine vehicles, making drop-in biofuels a national priority.

The Navy alone would need 336 million gallons of drop-in advanced biofuel each year to meet their target of obtaining half of their energy from alternative sources by 2020.

Scientists at the GLBRC are using synthetic biology and E. coli bacteria to generate the cellulosic biofuel technologies needed to meet this massive call for drop-in fuels.
Read the full story.

Thu, 02/09/2012

New group aims to advance biomass thermal heating in the Midwest for a more sustainable future, while improving the economic, environmental and social well-being of the region.

Heating the Midwest, a group of dedicated volunteers aim to improve awareness of and opportunities for renewable resources. See their new web site for more information and to get involved:

Thu, 02/09/2012

Wisconsin Sustainable Planting and Harvest Guidelines for Nonforest Biomass final version released

The Wisconsin Sustainable Planting and Harvest Guidelines for Nonforest Biomass is a collaborative effort of the WDNR, DATCP and UW-Madison to encourage decision-making and land use practices that benefit farmers financially while protecting the state’s natural resources. The final version of the guidelines has been released and can be found here.

Mon, 11/14/2011

Agricultural Ecosystems Research Group begins new collaborative project, “Community-based grass-shed development: building agricultural markets and increasing perennial cover on Wisconsin Landscapes.”

The Agricultural Ecosystems Research Group (AERG) has begun a new long-term project for expanding grass-based agriculture in Wisconsin. Taking a working lands approach involving regional partnerships among communities, industry, researchers and other partners, the project aims at planning and implementation of “grass-sheds”. A grass-shed is a geographic area of perennial grass-based agricultural development. The purpose of a grass-shed is to stimulate production of and demand for perennial grass-based feed (e.g., grass-fed beef and dairy), bioenergy? (e.g., grass pellets for furnaces and boilers), and fiber (e.g., animal bedding) within local and/or regional markets while increasing environmental quality and community benefits at local levels and beyond.

“Farmers and others produce perennial grasses? across Wisconsin for a variety of purposes including pasture, haying, bioenergy production, fish and wildlife conservation, and soil and water protection,” says Carol Williams, AERG co-coordinator, research scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and originator of the grass-shed concept. “However, as demand for grass-based materials increases over time there may be potential trade-offs? among end-uses and environmental outcomes, or alternatively there may be expansion of grass acres in such a way that invites fewer trade-offs.”

A grass-shed is a shared approach for identifying opportunities for local market-driven expansion of grass acres while limiting competition with other agricultural production needs at larger scales. The key is finding locations suitable for grass production not only in terms of site conditions but also in terms of economic competitiveness. The grass-shed approach seeks to achieve economic competitiveness by promoting greater demand for grass-based products and materials as well as the environmental and community benefits that grass-based agriculture generates.

Along with increased grass production other major high-priority goals of the grass-shed approach are increased farm profitability and economic resiliency; improved environmental quality; enhanced fish and wildlife conservation; greater community and regional self-reliance; new markets and job creation; and opportunities for educational, vocational and outreach activities. Stayed tuned for updates. Comments or questions? Send your inquiries to Carol Williams.

Mon, 10/24/2011

USDA researchers develop inexpensive way to grade the ethanol potential of perennial grasses at the biorefinery loading dock

The researchers, including Michael Casler of Madison, WI, developed the first use of near-infrared sensing (NIRS) to measure 20 components in switchgrass? biomass? that determine its potential value to biorefiners. These components include cell wall sugars, soluble sugars and lignin. With this information, 13 traits can be determined, including the efficiency of the conversion from sugars to ethanol. Read more.

Tue, 08/30/2011

Son of Billion Ton: the 10-minute version

The DOE & Oak Ridge National Lab have updated their landmark 2005 biomass? availability study. In their report "2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry," published this August, the research team projects 1.1-1.6 billion tons of sustainable biomass is available annually for industrial bioprocessing by 2030. Read more in the article by Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest.

Thu, 08/11/2011

University of Illinois and Colorado State University researchers find fuel and food increases in switch from corn production to perennial grasses on marginal lands

Growing perennial grasses? on the least productive farmland now used for corn ethanol production in the U.S. would result in higher overall corn yields, more ethanol output per acre and better groundwater quality, researchers report in a new study. The switch would also slash emissions of two potent greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Read more:

Tue, 07/12/2011

Researchers at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center document links between landscape simplification and increased insecticide use: recommend diversified agricultural landscapes with perennial bioenergy crops to temper negative environmental effects.

The continued growth of cropland and loss of natural habitat have increasingly simplified agricultural landscapes in the Midwest. A Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) study concluded that this simplification is associated with increased crop pest abundance and insecticide use, consequences that could be tempered by perennial bioenergy? crops. See more on this story:

See the study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of July 11: Or, see the abstract.

Mon, 07/11/2011

Salt-loving microbe provides new enzymes for the production of next-gen biofuels

In order to realize the full potential of advanced biofuels? that are derived from non-food sources of lignocellulosic biomass—e.g., agricultural, forestry, and municipal waste, and crops such as poplar, switchgrass? and miscanthus—new technologies that can efficiently and cost-effectively break down this biomass into simple sugars are required. A new class of solvents, referred to as ionic liquids, have been reported to be much more efficient in treating the biomass and enhancing the yield of sugars liberated from it. READ MORE...

Thu, 06/30/2011

Detroit Metro land to be used to grow bioenergy crops

Detriot Metro Airport and Michigan State University Extension announce partnership for production and harvest of bioenergy? crops on airport acres. Click here for the full article from CheckBiotech:

Tue, 06/28/2011

DuPont subsidiary enters agreement to purchase Iowa land for commercial stover biorefinery

Itasca, Illinois, USA - DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol? LLC (DDCE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of DuPont, has entered into an agreement to purchase a parcel of land in Nevada, Iowa, adjacent to Lincolnway Energy LLC's conventional ethanol plant. The agreement marks the next step in DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC’s move for developing a global license for its end-to-end biofuel? production system. Click here for the full article in CheckBiotech:

Tue, 06/28/2011

Four new BCAP project areas announced

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak has announced the establishment of four additional Biomass? Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Missouri to promote the cultivation of crops that can be processes into renewable energy?. Click here for full article from Southeast Farm Press.

Thu, 06/16/2011

Ceres takes bioenergy seed business public

Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based energy crop seed developed Ceres Inc. filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on May 23 for an initial public offering, hoping to raise up to $100 million to fund the expansion of its business. READ MORE...

Wed, 06/01/2011

Gov. Walker Accelerates bioenergy assessment to speed up investment in Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker announced today he is accelerating the timetable for a statewide bioenergy? resources assessment. Last year, the Special Legislative Council Study Committee on Domestic Biofuels, created Act 401. This legislation contained a requirement that the state undertake a bioenergy feedstock? assessment by April 2013. The report, currently due in April of 2013, will be moved up by more than a year. READ MORE...

Thu, 05/26/2011

"Plant, Baby, Plant!" ™ Farmers Aim to Replace Foreign Oil with Renewable Biomass Fuel

Show Me Energy Cooperative, owned and operated by over 600 farmers, announced May 5 that its proposal for a Biomass? Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) area designation, named "Plant, Baby, Plant," has been accepted by USDA. Fact sheet. Press release.

Thu, 05/05/2011

USDA sets May deadline for Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) proposals.

The Biomass? Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land who wish to establish, produce, and deliver biomass feedstocks. READ MORE...

Fri, 04/22/2011

Congress debates advantages and disadvantages of non-corn based ethanol versus drop-in biofuels

In Washington, the USDA says it expects ethanol refineries to be co-located near feedstock? sources as new non-corn based technologies become commercially available, helping to break the concentration of ethanol production and availability in the corn belt... READ MORE...

Mon, 04/11/2011

UW Extension professor: using federal incentives to drive biomass supply chain dynamics.

The idea of becoming an active participant in the biomass supply chain? to provide feedstock? for biorefineries and power plants may be difficult to grasp for many suppliers on the outside looking in. READ MORE...

Fri, 03/25/2011

U.S. researchers develop switchgrass strain with 33% higher yields than conventional switchgrass.

U.S. researchers develop switchgrass? strain with 33% higher yields than conventional switchgrass.

In Tennessee, a research team at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Georgia Tech and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a strain of switchgrass that produces about 33 percent more ethanol than conventional switchgrass. The key – decreasing the presence of lignin by one-eighth – thereby reducing the strain’s resistance – or recalcitrance? – to the fermentation process. READ MORE...

Wed, 03/02/2011

USDA proposes reform to loan guarantees for advanced biofuels.

The USDA recently proposed changes to its loan guarantee program in order to make it more accessible for advanced biofuels? projects. Acquiring financing to support the loan guarantees for development and retrofitting of advanced biofuel refineries has been nearly impossible through commercial banks. Therefore, the USDA will now allow loan guarantees to apply to the bond market, which has the potential to open up funding for projects that have been otherwise unable to progress. READ MORE...

Fri, 02/18/2011

EPA Delays Tougher Rules on Emissions

EPA Delays Tougher Rules on Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will leave in place policies set by President George W. Bush. The agency says it needs until July 2011 to further analyze scientific and health studies of the smog rules and until April 2012 to analyze boiler regulation. READ MORE...

Mon, 01/17/2011

Businesses show interest in providing biomass for Charter Street heating Plant

Press release University of Wisconsin-Madison News May 24, 2010
Officials say 59 businesses responded to a “request for information” to help pinpoint the sources of biomass? fuel for a renovate.

Mon, 05/24/2010
Anerobic Digestion and Biogas

UW Extension have created seven modules focused on the use of anaerobic digestion technologies. Details of the process are introduced, as well as factors that influence start-up, operation and control of anaerobic digesters at different scales.

Contact Us:


Carol Williams
(608) 890-3858 (office)
(515) 520-7494 (mobile)
Department of Agronomy
1575 Linden Dr.
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706

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A visit to switchgrass? trial plots run by Iowa State University researchers; near Ames, IA. Photo by CL Williams, 2010.