Regional examination shows potential for native feedstock options for cellulosic biofuel production

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Kentucky, as with many regions around the globe, has a relatively long growing season with significant rainfall that could produce sizeable quantities of perennial herbaceous and woody biomass on land that does not compete with food crops. Additionally, there are limited options for renewable power production from low carbon sources such as solar-photovoltaic, wind and hydroelectric. Recent studies have shown that producing renewable energy from perennial cellulosic crops, as opposed to starch-based biofuel crops, will have a carbon-mitigating outcome. Currently, there is a lack of data regarding regionally suitable genotypes. Herein, we establish baseline values for multiple entry selections of three native C4 grass species, switchgrass (SW) (Panicum virgatumL.), eastern gamagrass (EG)(Trispicum dactyloidesL.)and big bluestem (BB)(Andropogon gerardiiVitman). Yield potential examined over 7 years showed that environment, species and entries had a significant impact on yield, but EG had higher total yield over the duration of the study. Cellulosic biofuel potential was examined by measurement of saccharification efficiency, relative lignocellulosic energy density, cellulose content and lignin content during three growing seasons. EG had significantly higher digestibility rate than SW and BB. Underlying this was a negative correlation between lignification and saccharification efficiency. However, higher lignin content and higher cellulose content among SW entries resulted in higher energy density relative to EG and BB. These data reveal that locally bred EG varieties were most suited to cellulosic ethanol production under the growing conditions of central Kentucky, USA, compared with SW and BB and suggest the importance of regional examination.

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