Study: Increased switchgrass acreage could improve water quality

By U.S. Department of Energy | February 03, 2016

Argonne National Laboratory released a study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office that examines the potential effects of future biofuel production on freshwater resources in the Missouri River Basin—a region that could play a central role in the production of cellulosic biomass like switchgrass, a perennial energy crop. The study identified four areas that could be associated with increased feedstock production, and demonstrated that increasing the amount of switchgrass acreage in these hot spots could significantly improve water quality. 

This study utilized the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, a robust modeling tool developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, to examine how water quality—nutrient and sediment loading—and flow would respond to region-specific increases in feedstock production estimated by BETO’s Billion Ton Update.

The results of this effort can support decision making at an early stage of biofuel industry development as a part of enhancing the environmental sustainability of feedstock production. Future studies will expand this work by evaluating how best management practices influence water quality, agriculture production, and feedstock production in an integrated landscape.

Argonne National Laboratory is one of eleven Energy Department national laboratories that receive funding from the Bioenergy Technologies Office. This work is a part of BETO’s Strategic Analysis and Sustainability Program, which is developing the resources, technologies, and systems needed to support a thriving bioenergy industry that protects natural resources and advances environmental, economic, and social benefits. These efforts are critical to achieving BETO’s overall goals of developing commercially viable biofuels.