Clemson receives grant to research crops for energy use
A new public-private partnership led by Clemson University and a worldwide biomass and bioenergy producer will research the use of new crops that can both open new markets for South Carolina landowners and support the growing global demand for renewable energy. In forming the Carolina Energy Crop Alliance, Uruguay-based Abengoa Energy Crops has committed $3.8 million for Clemson to research the use of trees and grass-like feedstocks to produce biofuels.
The Alliance will include scientists and educators from a number of state and federal agencies, as well as several private enterprises. “The more crop and tree options we have to produce biomass, the more productive and sustainable it will be,” said Fabian Capdevielle, product developer for Abengoa Energy Crops. “Research is needed to evaluate where both limitations and opportunities exist for these new crops.” The field research will be based at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center located near Florence, but will include activities throughout South Carolina’s Coastal Plain.
The Alliance will focus on five primary research and education areas: sustainability of feedstock production; genetic development of new tree feedstocks; silviculture trials to analyze forest health; analysis of the management, harvest and storage of grass-type feedstocks; and landowner and public education programs. Alliance partners include Honda Manufacturing of South Carolina, which is leasing land to Clemson to conduct agricultural research; ArborGen Inc., which is providing trees for testing; and NexSteppe Inc., which will collaborate on the development of new biomass sorghum hybrids for the region.
The Alliance also has an advisory board of leaders representing interests in the environment, economic development, energy, agriculture and forestry. Lead by Clemson professor James Frederick, researchers will evaluate switchgrass and biomass sorghum at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence. The project also will include test plots to analyze different varieties of cottonwood, sweetgum and loblolly pine trees as sources of bioenergy, and provide insights on how biomass production affects soil health, air and water quality, and biodiversity.
Crops and trees will be studied for potential combustion as an alternative to coal and for conversion to liquid biofuels such as ethanol. “Many of these crops and trees are more suited than traditional food crops for production on the marginal, sandy soils common to the Coastal Plain. Feedstocks grown for bioenergy are thought to have many beneficial characteristics such as high yield potential, good drought tolerance, a source of wildlife habitat, low input costs and capacity to be produced using traditional farming and forestry equipment,” Frederick said.
“The overall goal of this three-year study is to test new hybrids and genotypes of different tree species and grass-type feedstocks for productivity and environmental sustainability in the Southeast.” Abengoa Energy Crops was created in 2011 as a new division of the Abengoa business group. The company aims to become a global benchmark in the development of biomass as an efficient energy source. The Abengoa parent company has an interest in the development of new technologies around the world in the biomass, wind and solar energy markets. The Pee Dee REC is one of Clemson’s five agricultural research centers in South Carolina. It conducts applied research and outreach on row crops with an emphasis on new plant technologies.