Physicochemical and Structural Characteristics of Corn Stover and Cobs After Physiological Maturity

  • Asmita Khanal
  • Ashish Manandhar
  • Ajay ShahEmail author


Corn stover removal for biofuels production removes potentially recyclable nutrients and carbon challenging the sustainability of the process. Therefore, this study focused on quantifying the distributions of dry matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, carbon, sugars and lignin in corn stover fractions, and cobs. In 2016 and 2017, corn plants from different hybrids were collected from a corn field in Ohio at two maturity levels. The properties were evaluated for different non-grain corn plant fractions (i.e., stover fractions above and below ear, and cob). Stover fractions below and above ear (not including cobs) and cobs contributed, respectively, to 42–56%, 31–38%, and 13–18% of the total non-grain aboveground dry matter in 2 years. Glucose and lignin concentrations were uniformly distributed and ranged from 321 to 407 mg/g and 87 to 158 mg/g, respectively, for both years. Cobs contained the highest concentration of other sugars (351–361 mg/g) in both years, compared to 217–298 mg/g in other fractions. Nitrogen and phosphorus were uniformly distributed across the different corn stover and cob fractions, ranging between 4–20 mg/g and 0.2–1.5 mg/g, respectively. Potassium concentration was the highest in stover fraction below ear (10–24 mg/g) compared to 5–11 mg/g in other fractions. The results suggest that harvesting cob and above ear stover fractions from the field would allow corn stover collection with suitable sugar concentrations for biofuels/products while retaining stover fractions with higher nutrients concentrations in the field.


Biofuels Corn residues Nutrients Sugars Lignin 


Funding information

This work was supported by funding from USDA NIFA AFRI Foundational Program (Grant No. 2017-67021-26141) and USDA NIFA Hatch Project (Grant No. 1005665).

Supplementary material

12155_2019_9992_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 38 kb)


  1. 1.
    U.S. EPA (2017) Overview for renewable fuel standard. Accessed 29 May 2018
  2. 2.
    Schwab A, Warner E, Lewis J (2016) 2015 Survey of non-starch ethanol and renewable hydrocarbon biofuels producers. Accessed 3 May 2019
  3. 3.
    U.S. DOE (2016) 2016 Billion-Ton Report. Accessed 16 Dec 2018
  4. 4.
    Iowa Corn Promotion Board (2013) Sustainable Corn Stover Harvest. Accessed 10 Mar 2019
  5. 5.
    Arora K, Licht M, Leibold K (2014) Industrial corn stover harvest. In: Iowa State Univ. Ext. Outreach. Accessed 10 Mar 2019
  6. 6.
    Shah A, Darr M, Khanal S, Lal R (2016) A techno-environmental overview of a corn stover biomass feedstock supply chain for cellulosic biorefineries. Biofuels:1–11Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Lal R (2009) Soil quality impacts of residue removal for bioethanol production. Soil Tillage Res 102:233–241. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Wilhelm WW (2004) Crop and soil productivity response to corn residue removal: a literature review. Agron J 96(1):17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Adler PR, Rau BM, Roth GW (2015) Sustainability of corn stover harvest strategies in Pennsylvania. Bioenergy Res 8:1310–1320. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hoskinson RL, Karlen DL, Birrell SJ et al (2007) Engineering, nutrient removal, and feedstock conversion evaluations of four corn stover harvest scenarios. Biomass Bioenergy 31:126–136. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mourtzinis S, Cantrell KB, Arriaga FJ, Balkcom KS, Novak JM, Frederick JR, Karlen DL (2016) Carbohydrate and nutrient composition of corn stover from three southeastern USA locations. Biomass Bioenergy 85:153–158. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Johnson JMF, Wilhelm WW, Karlen DL, Archer DW, Wienhold B, Lightle DT, Laird D, Baker J, Ochsner TE, Novak JM, Halvorson AD, Arriaga F, Barbour N (2010) Nutrient removal as a function of corn stover cutting height and cob harvest. Bioenergy Res 3:342–352. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Karlen DL, Kovar JL, Birrell SJ (2015) Corn r nutrient removal estimates for Central Iowa, USA. Sustain 7:8621–8634. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cruse RM, Herndl CG (2009) Balancing corn stover harvest for biofuels with soil and water conservation. J Soil Water Conserv 64:286–291. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jeschke M, Heggenstaller A (2012) Sustainable corn stover harvest for biofuel production. Crop Insights 22:1–6Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Chen H, Li X, Hu F, Shi W (2013) Soil nitrous oxide emissions following crop residue addition: a meta-analysis. Glob Chang Biol 19:2956–2964. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Jin VL, Baker JM, Johnson JMF, Karlen DL, Lehman RM, Osborne SL, Sauer TJ, Stott DE, Varvel GE, Venterea RT, Schmer MR, Wienhold BJ (2014) Soil greenhouse gas emissions in response to corn stover removal and tillage management across the US Corn Belt. Bioenergy Res 7:517–527. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Congreves KA, Brown SE, Németh DD, Dunfield KE, Wagner-Riddle C (2017) Differences in field-scale N2O flux linked to crop residue removal under two tillage systems in cold climates. GCB Bioenergy 9:666–680. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Graham RL, Nelson R, Sheehan J, Perlack RD, Wright LL (2007) Current and potential U.S. corn stover supplies. Agron J 99(1):11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Nafziger ED (2011) Tillage and nitrogen responses to residue removal in continuous corn. In: North central extension-industry soil fertility conference. International Plant Nutrition Institute, Des Moines, pp 16–19Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Blanco-Canqui H, Lal R (2007) Soil and crop response to harvesting corn residues for biofuel production. Geoderma 141:355–362. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Wilhelm WW, Johnson JMF, Karlen DL, Lightle DT (2007) Corn stover to sustain soil organic carbon further constrains biomass supply. Agron J 99:1665–1667. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Mann L, Tolbert V, Cushman J (2002) Potential environmental effects of corn (Zea mays L.) stover removal with emphasis on soil organic matter and erosion. Agric Ecosyst Environ 89:149–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Blanco-Canqui H, Lal R (2009) Corn stover removal for expanded uses reduces soil fertility and structural stability. Soil Sci Soc Am J 73:418. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Wang S, Wang Y, Cai Q, Wang X, Jin H, Luo Z (2014) Multi-step separation of monophenols and pyrolytic lignins from the water-insoluble phase of bio-oil. Sep Purif Technol 122:248–255. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Johnson J, Novak J, Varvel G et al (2014) Crop residue mass needed to maintain soil organic carbon levels: can it be determined? Bioenergy Res 7:481–490. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Wilhelm WW, Johnson JMF, Lightle DT, Karlen DL, Novak JM, Barbour NW, Laird DA, Baker J, Ochsner TE, Halvorson AD, Archer DW, Arriaga F (2011) Vertical distribution of corn stover dry mass grown at several US locations. Bioenergy Res 4:11–21. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Karlen DL, Birrell SJ, Johnson JMF, Osborne SL, Schumacher TE, Varvel GE, Ferguson RB, Novak JM, Fredrick JR, Baker JM, Lamb JA, Adler PR, Roth GW, Nafziger ED (2014) Multilocation corn stover harvest effects on crop yields and nutrient removal. BioEnergy Res 7:528–539. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ye X, Liu S, Kline L, et al (2006) Fast biomass compositional analysis using Fourier Transform Near-infrared Technique 2006 ASABE Annu Int Meet 0300:1–10Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Barten TJ (2013) Evaluation and prediction of corn stover biomass and composition from commercially available corn hybrids. Iowa State Unviersity, AmesCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Templeton DW, Sluiter AD, Hayward TK, Hames BR, Thomas SR (2009) Assessing corn stover composition and sources of variability via NIRS. Cellulose 16:621–639. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Weiss ND, Farmer JD, Schell DJ (2010) Impact of corn stover composition on hemicellulose conversion during dilute acid pretreatment and enzymatic cellulose digestibility of the pretreated solids. Bioresour Technol 101:674–678. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Gao P, Fan D, Luo Y et al (2009) Efficient and comprehensive utilization of hemicellulose in the corn stover. Chin J Chem Eng 17:350–354. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Duguid KB, Montross MD, Radtke CW, Crofcheck CL, Wendt LM, Shearer SA (2009) Effect of anatomical fractionation on the enzymatic hydrolysis of acid and alkaline pretreated corn stover. Bioresour Technol 100:5189–5195. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Mourtzinis S, Cantrell KB, Arriaga FJ, Balkcom KS, Novak JM, Frederick JR, Karlen DL (2014) Distribution of structural carbohydrates in corn plants across the southeastern USA. Bioenergy Res 7:551–558. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Aboagye D, Banadda N, Kambugu R, Seay J, Kiggundu N, Zziwa A, Kabenge I (2017) Glucose recovery from different corn stover fractions using dilute acid and alkaline pretreatment techniques. J Ecol Environ 41:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Garlock RJ, Chundawat SPS, Balan V, Dale BE (2009) Optimizing harvest of corn Stover fractions based on overall sugar yields following ammonia fiber expansion pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis. Biotechnol Biofuels 2:1–14. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ding JC, Xu GC, Han RZ, Ni Y (2016) Biobutanol production from corn stover hydrolysate pretreated with recycled ionic liquid by Clostridium saccharobutylicum DSM 13864. Bioresour Technol 199:228–234. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Wang L, Chen H (2011) Increased fermentability of enzymatically hydrolyzed steam-exploded corn stover for butanol production by removal of fermentation inhibitors. Process Biochem 46:604–607. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Zhang Y, Hou T, Li B, Liu C, Mu X, Wang H (2013) Acetone-butanol-ethanol production from corn stover pretreated by alkaline twin-screw extrusion pretreatment. Bioprocess Biosyst Eng 37:913–921. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    He T, Jiang Z, Wu P, Yi J, Li J, Hu C (2016) Fractionation for further conversion: from raw corn stover to lactic acid. Sci Rep 6:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Nichols NN, Saha BC (2016) Production of xylitol by a Coniochaeta ligniaria strain tolerant of inhibitors and defective in growth on xylose. Biotechnol Prog 32:606–612. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Chen H (2014) Chemical composition and structure of natural lignocellulose. In: Biotechnology of lignocellulose: theory and practice. Chemical Industry Press, Beijing, pp 25–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Johnson J, Karlen D, Gresham G, Cantrell K, Archer D, Wienhold B, Varvel G, Laird D, Baker J, Ochsner T, Novak J, Halvorson A, Arriaga F, Lightle D, Hoover A, Emerson R, Barbour N (2014) Vertical distribution of structural components in corn stover. Agriculture 4:274–287. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
  46. 46.
    Clewer AG, Scarisbrick DH (2001) Practical statistics and experimental design for plant and crop science. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Pennington D (2013) Harvest index: a predictor of corn stover yield. In: Michigan State Univ. Ext. Accessed 2 Dec 2018
  48. 48.
    Sluiter A, Hames B, Ruiz R, et al (2012) NREL/TP-510-42618 analytical procedure - determination of structural carbohydrates and lignin in biomass. Lab Anal Proced 17. NREL/TP-510-42618Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Gonick H, Tunnicliff DD, Peters ED, Lykken L, Zahn V (1945) Determination of nitrogen by combustion improved dumas apparatus and recycle procedure. Ind Eng Chem Anal Ed 17:677–682. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    US EPA (2007) Microwave assisted acid digestion of sediments, sludges, soils and oils. Accessed 16 Dec 2018
  51. 51.
    Wu Y, Liu S, Young CJ, Dahal D, Sohl TL, Davis B (2015) Projection of corn production and stover-harvesting impacts on soil organic carbon dynamics in the US. Temperate Prairies. Sci Rep 5:1–12. Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Faulkner DB, Berger LL, Eckhoff SR (2012) Harvest date influence on dry matter yield and moisture of corn and stover. Trans ASABE 55:593–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Balan V (2014) Current challenges in commercially producing biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass. ISRN Biotechnol 2014:1–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Cambouris AN, Ziadi N, Perron I, Alotaibi KD, St. Luce M, Tremblay N (2016) Corn yield components response to nitrogen fertilizer as a function of soil texture. Can J Soil Sci 96:386–399. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ren B, Dong S, Zhao B, Liu P, Zhang J (2017) Responses of nitrogen metabolism, uptake and translocation of maize to waterlogging at different growth stages. Front Plant Sci 8:1–9. Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Li HY, Xu L, Liu WJ, Fang MQ, Wang N (2014) Assessment of the nutritive value of whole corn stover and its morphological fractions. Asian Australas J Anim Sci 27:194–200. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Hanway JJ (1966) How a corn plant develops. Accessed 2 Dec 2018
  58. 58.
    Sawyer J (2007) Nutrient removal when harvesting corn stover. In: Iowa State Univ. Ext. Outreach. Accessed 16 Dec 2018
  59. 59.
    Barbosa JZ, Ferreira CF, dos Santos NZ et al (2016) Production, carbon and nitrogen in stover fractions of corn (Zea mays L.) in response to cultivar development. Ciência e Agrotecnol 40:665–675. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Latshaw WL, Miller EC (1924) Elemental composition of the corn plant. J Agric Res 27:845–861Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological EngineeringThe Ohio State UniversityWoosterUSA

Personalised recommendations