Modeling water and soil quality environmental impacts associated with bioenergy crop production and biomass removal in the Midwest

ABSTRACT: The removal of corn stover? or production of herbaceous crops such as switchgrass?(Panicum virgatum) or big bluestem(Andropogon gerardii) as feedstocks for bioenergy? purposes has been shown to have significant benefits from an energy and climate change perspective. There is potential, however, to adversely impact water and soil quality, especially in the United States Corn Belt where stover removal predominantly occurs. The overall goal of this research was to provide a thorough and mechanistic understanding of the relationship between stover and herbaceous crop production management practices and resulting range of impacts on soil and water quality, with a focus on eastern Iowa, USA. Comparisons of the production of herbaceous bioenergy crops to continuous corn(Zea mays L.) and corn-soybean (Glycine max L.) rotations on five different soils representative of the region were performed. Indices for total nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) loss to surface water and groundwater, total soil loss due to water and wind erosion, and cumulative soil carbon loss were derived to assess long-term sustainability. The results clearly show the superiority of herbaceous crop production from a soil and water quality perspective. They also show that compared to traditional cropping systems (e.g., corn-soybean rotations with conventional tillage), soil and water quality degradation can be reduced under certain conditions at the same time stover is removed.

Powers, SE, JC Ascough II, RG Nelson and GR Larocque. In press. Modeling water and soil quality environmental impacts associated with bioenergy crop production and biomass? removal in the Midwest USA. Ecological Modelling (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2011.02.024.

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.

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Researchers from University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources visit a grassland bird study site in southwestern Wisconsin. Photo by AERG.