The Feasibility of Producing Adequate Feedstock for Year-Round Cellulosic Ethanol Production in an Intensive Agricultural Fuelshed


To date, cellulosic ethanol production has not been commercialized in the United States. However, government mandates aimed at increasing second-generation biofuel production could spur exploratory development in the cellulosic ethanol industry. We conducted an in-depth analysis of the fuelshed surrounding a starch-based ethanol plant near York, Nebraska that has the potential for cellulosic ethanol production. To assess the feasibility of supplying adequate biomass for year-round cellulosic ethanol production from residual maize (Zea mays) stover and bioenergy switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) within a 40-km road network service area of the existing ethanol plant, we identified ∼14,000 ha of marginally productive cropland within the service area suitable for conversion from annual rowcrops to switchgrass and ∼132,000 ha of maize-enrolled cropland from which maize stover could be collected. Annual maize stover and switchgrass biomass supplies within the 40-km service area could range between 429,000 and 752,000 metric tons (mT). Approximately 140–250 million liters (l) of cellulosic ethanol could be produced, rivaling the current 208 million l annual starch-based ethanol production capacity of the plant. We conclude that sufficient quantities of biomass could be produced from maize stover and switchgrass near the plant to support year-round cellulosic ethanol production at current feedstock yields, sustainable removal rates and bioconversion efficiencies. Modifying existing starch-based ethanol plants in intensive agricultural fuelsheds could increase ethanol output, return marginally productive cropland to perennial vegetation, and remove maize stover from productive cropland to meet feedstock demand.

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The authors would like to thank Eric Zach of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and two anonymous reviewers for their contributions to this manuscript, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture for providing GIS data, and the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative and U. S. Geological Survey—Climate Effects Network for financial support. The Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit is jointly supported by a cooperative agreement between the U. S. Geological Survey, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Management Institute. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U. S. Government.

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Correspondence to Daniel R. Uden.

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Uden, D.R., Mitchell, R.B., Allen, C.R. et al. The Feasibility of Producing Adequate Feedstock for Year-Round Cellulosic Ethanol Production in an Intensive Agricultural Fuelshed. Bioenerg. Res. 6, 930–938 (2013).

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  • Switchgrass
  • Maize stover
  • Cellulosic ethanol
  • Biomass
  • Feasibility
  • Fuelshed