What are some resources for information on switchgrass production, marketing, and processing?

D.W.FloridaAnswer: I am pleased to provide you with information on growing switchgrass, opportunities for markets, and developing local processing plants.Although recent news has been full of exciting reports about ethanol and switchgrass, producers and processors need to be aware that a market for switchgrass as an energy crop is scarce to nonexistent. There is intense speculation about how, when, and whether these potential markets will materialize. In the meantime, corn ethanol is becoming more popular in the marketplace. In fact, 14 percent of the 2005 U.S. corn crop was used to produce ethanol, and the percentage is expected to grow. Cellulosic ethanol production is, from a processing and distribution standpoint, still in a research and development phase. As further research into cellulosic ethanol production and processing is completed, perhaps switchgrass can become a cost-effective, viable alternative energy source. ? many are optimistic that the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol will eventually drop far below the cost of producing corn-based ethanol. Until recently, the cellulase enzymes used for enzymatic hydrolysis were prohibitively expensive, costing five or six dollars per gallon of ethanol. In 2005, though, two companies?Novozymes Biotech and Genencor International?reported achieving costs as low as 10 to 20 cents per gallon of ethanol, in laboratory trials funded by USDOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Two concerns about ethanol have received more attention than all the others combined: the high cost/incentives issue and the energy balance issue. These concerns are over-emphasized. The more important questions about ethanol concern its possible impacts on air, water, and soils, especially if large-scale corn ethanol continues to dominate the industry and if the U.S. pushes to maximize ethanol production (source: Morris, Mike and Amanda Hill. 2006. Ethanol Opportunities and Questions. Butte, MT: ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service)Resources on Switchgrass Production and EconomicsRinehart, L. 2006. Switchgrass as a Bioenergy Crop. Butte, MT: National Center for Appropriate Technology. Switchgrass is a native warm-season, perennial grass indigenous to the Central and North American tall-grass prairie into Canada. The plant is an immense biomass producer that can reach heights of 10 feet or more. Its high cellulosic content makes switchgrass a candidate for ethanol production as well as a combustion fuel source for power production. This publication discusses agricultural production aspects of switchgrass. Varieties, seed sources, crop establishment, management, and harvesting issues are presented. Ecological considerations are also discussed and a case study is presented along with references and further resources.McLaughlin, S., J. Bouton, D. Bransby, B. Conger, W. Ocumpaugh, D. Parrish, C. Taliaferro, K. Vogel, and S. Wullschleger. 1999. Developing switchgrass as a bioenergy crop. p. 282?299. In: J. Janick (ed.), Perspectives on new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. Renewable energy from biomass has the potential to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, though not to totally replace them. Realizing this potential will require the simultaneous development of high yielding biomass production systems and bioconversion technologies that efficiently convert biomass energy into the forms of energy and chemicals usable by industry. The endpoint criterion for success is economic gain for both agricultural and industrial sectors at reduced environmental cost and reduced political risk. This paper reviews progress made in a program of research aimed at evaluating and developing a perennial forage crop, switchgrass as a regional bioenergy crop. We will highlight here aspects of research progress that most closely relate to the issues that will determine when and how extensively switchgrass is used in commercial bioenergy production.Perrin, Richard, Kenneth Vogel, Marty Schmer, and Rob Mitchell. Farm-Scale Production Cost of Switchgrass for Biomass. Bioenerg. Res. (2008) 1:91?97.The economic potential of cellulosic biomass from switchgrass has heretofore been evaluated using estimates of farm costs based on extrapolation from experimental data and budget estimates. The objective of the project reported here was to estimate the cost of production that would be experienced by farmers on commercial production situations. Switchgrass was produced as a biomass crop on commercial-scale fields by ten contracting farmers located from northern North Dakota to southern Nebraska. Results showed a wide range of yields and costs across the five production years and ten sites, with an overall average cost of $65.86 Mg−1 of biomass dry matter, and annualized yield of 5.0 Mg ha−1. The low cost half of the producers were able to produce at an average cost of $51.95 Mg−1over the 5-year period. When projected to a full 10-year rotation, their cost fell further to $46.26 Mg−1. We conclude that substantial quantities of biomass feedstock could have been produced in this region at a cost of about $50 Mg−1 at the farm gate, which translates to about $0.13/l of ethanol. These results provide a more reliable benchmark for current commercial production costs as compared to other estimates, which range from $25 to $100 Mg−1.Hintz, Roger L., Kenneth J. Moore, Alison B. Tarr. 2002. Cropping Systems Research for Biomass Energy Production: A final report prepared for the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. Iowa State University Department of Agronomy.As with any new crop, there are many questions related to biomass cropping systems, which need to be addressed through research. While much research has been done on managing switchgrass either as a biomass or as a forage crop, little work has been done on developing systems in which switchgrass is managed for both purposes in a complementary manner. This work may become extremely important. The economics of switchgrass production as a fuel energy source are and will likely remain marginal. Therefore, it is important to find ways to enhance the value of the switchgrass crop beyond its value as a biofuel. Using the switchgrass crop for both forage and biomass production may increase the return per land unit and lessen the risk to the total enterprise.Babcock, Bruce A., Philip W. Gassman, Manoj Jha, and Catherine L. Kling. 2007. Adoption Subsidies and Environmental Impacts of Alternative Energy Crops, Briefing Paper 07-BP 50. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.We provide estimates of the costs associated with inducing substantial conversion of land from production of traditional crops to switchgrass. Higher traditional crop prices due to increased demand for corn from the ethanol industry has increased the relative advantage that row crops have over switchgrass. Results indicate that farmers will convert to switchgrass production only with significant conversion subsidies. To examine potential environmental consequences of conversion, we investigate three stylized landscape usage scenarios, one with an entire conversion of a watershed to switchgrass production, a second with the entire watershed planted to continuous corn under a 50% removal rate of the biomass, and a third scenario that places switchgrass on the most erodible land in the watershed and places continuous corn on the least erodible. For each of these illustrative scenarios, the watershed-scale Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) hydrological model (Arnold et al., 1998; Arnold and Forher, 2005) is used to evaluate the effect of these landscape uses on sediment and nutrient loadings in the Maquoketa Watershed in eastern Iowa.Switchgrass Processing and Pelletizing TechnologySvejkovsky, Cathy. 2007. Locally Owned Renewable Energy Facilities. Butte, MT: National Center for Appropriate Technology.This publication discusses locally owned renewable energy facilities?the benefits they provide to local economies and potential challenges of developing such a facility. It describes common business models, profiles several successful facilities, and provides resources for more information.J.H. Cherney. 2006. Grass Pelleting ? The Process, Bioenergy Information Sheet #7. Cornell University.The purpose of this publication is to describe the steps involved in pelleting biofuels.Carolan, Joseph E., Satish V. Joshi, and Bruce E. Dale. 2007. Technical and Financial Feasibility Analysis of Distributed Bioprocessing Using Regional Biomass Pre-Processing Centers. Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization.Research indicates that large biorefineries capable of handling 5000-10000MT of biomass per day are necessary to achieve process economies. However, such large biorefineries also entail increased costs of biomass transportation and storage, high transaction costs of contracting with a large number of farmers for biomass supply, potential market power issues, and local environmental impacts. We propose a network of regional biomass preprocessing centers (RBPC) that form an extended biomass supply chain feeding into a biorefinery, as a way to address these issues. The RBPC, in its mature form, is conceptualized as a flexible processing facility capable of pre-treating and converting biomass into appropriate feedstocks for a variety of final products such as fuels, chemicals, electricity, and animal feeds. We evaluate the technical and financial feasibility of a simple RBPC that uses ammonia fiber expansion pretreatment process and produces animal feed along with biorefinery feedstock.Porter, Pamela A., Jonathan Barry, Roger Samson, and Mark Doudlah. 2008. Growing Wisconsin Energy: A Native Grass Pellet Bio-Heat Roadmap for Wisconsin. Agrecol Corporation, Madison, Wisconsin.The study found that switchgrass can be grown successfully and cost effectively in Wisconsin. It does not require any new technology and can be grown with existing farm practices and equipment. It is also a strong candidate for pelleting. Pelleting allows switchgrass to overcome many logistics inherent to agricultural biomass: the uniform size allows it to be handled and stored easily, transported more economically and burned more efficiently.Compton, Tammy. 2008. Mobile Pelletizing Machine and Switch Grass Could Mean $ For Farmers. Wayne Independent (Pennsylvania). News report of a project in northeastern Pennsylvania. If you?d like more information on the mobile pelletizing machine, you may contact the Wayne Conservation District at 570-253-0930.Financial OpportunitiesUS Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Biomass Program The Department of Energy is a major provider of funding for basic and applied research for converting biomass resources to biofuels. Many financial assistance opportunities are available for small to large-scale research activities. The Department of Energy (DOE)’s e-center contains information on doing business with the agency. The e-center allows you to search by keyword and view renewable energy funding opportunities, register to submit proposals, and obtain information and guidance on the acquisition and financial assistance award process. This database provides accurate, up-to-date information on all solicitations offered by the Department of Energy, including those offered by the EERE Biomass Program, Office of Science, and others. DOE also provides this information to the central database for all Federal government grants, www.grants.gov. Both sites’ individual postings contain contact information and application criteria details for current solicitations, should you have questions. In addition to independent solicitations, DOE conducts joint solicitations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative. Project criteria are specified in each new request for proposals, but information regarding recently-awarded projects may provide guidance for prospective applicants. DOE and USDA encourage you to apply.