Chapter 19 C4 Species as Energy Crops

  • Michael B. Jones
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 32)


The cultivation and utilisation of energy crops has the potential to provide, in the coming decades, part of the solution to the twin issues of substituting for fossil fuels and protection from damaging climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The ideal energy crop should have sustained capacity to capture and convert solar energy into harvestable biomass with maximal efficiency and with minimal inputs and environmental impacts. C4 plants, and in particular rhizomatous perennial grasses (PRGs), have many of the characteristics of the ‘ideal’ energy crop. Herbaceous perennial species require far fewer energy and capital inputs than annual crops and they also sequester more carbon in the soil. C4 photosynthesis also allows greater efficiencies in the conversion of solar energy to biomass energy, and of nitrogen and water use. Currently the most important feedstocks for biofuels are maize in the USA and sugarcane in Brazil, both C4 species. In temperate climatic regions, where there is the greatest current demand for renewable energy, few naturally occurring species have C4 photosynthesis. However, there are some notable exceptions, such as Miscanthus and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), which show significant cold tolerance and are currently being developed as energy crops. The unusual features of the C4 pathway in these species which appear to confer cold tolerance are reviewed. The recent drive to exploit the energy production and carbon emission mitigation potentials of C4 energy crops has been controversial because of the anticipated competition for use of land for food or fuel. Despite this, the yield benefits provided by C4 photosynthesis suggest that these species will make a significant contribution to bioenergy production over the near- and longer-terms.


Soil Organic Carbon Corn Stover Energy Crop Bioenergy Crop Soil Organic Carbon Pool 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Life cycle analysis


Low input high diversity


Nicatinamide adenine dinucleotide-malic enzyme


Net energy balance


Nitrogen use efficiency


Phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase


Photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency


Pyruvate orthophosphate dikinase


Perennial rhizomatous grasses


Radiation use efficiency


Soil organic carbon


Water use efficiency


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© Springer Netherlands 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Botany Department, School of Natural SciencesTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland

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