Ecosystem-scale biogeochemical fluxes from three bioenergy crop candidates: How energy sorghum compares to maize and miscanthus

Caitlin E. Moore, Adam C. von Haden, Mark B. Burnham, Ilsa B. Kantola, Christy D. Gibson, Bethany J. Blakely, Evan C. Dracup, Michael D. Masters, Wendy H. Yang, Evan H. DeLucia, Carl J. Bernacchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perennial crops have been the focus of bioenergy research and development for their sustainability benefits associated with high soil carbon (C) and reduced nitrogen (N) requirements. However, perennial crops mature over several years and their sustainability benefits can be negated through land reversion. A photoperiod-sensitive energy sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) may provide an annual crop alternative more ecologically sustainable than maize (Zea mays) that can more easily integrate into crop rotations than perennials, such as miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus). This study presents an ecosystem-scale comparison of C, N, water and energy fluxes from energy sorghum, maize and miscanthus during a typical growing season in the Midwest United States. Gross primary productivity (GPP) was highest for maize during the peak growing season at 21.83 g C m−2 day−1, followed by energy sorghum (17.04 g C m−2 day−1) and miscanthus (15.57 g C m−2 day−1). Maize also had the highest peak growing season evapotranspiration at 5.39 mm day−1, with energy sorghum and miscanthus at 3.81 and 3.61 mm day−1, respectively. Energy sorghum was the most efficient water user (WUE), while maize and miscanthus were comparatively similar (3.04, 1.75 and 1.89 g C mm−1 H2O, respectively). Maize albedo was lower than energy sorghum and miscanthus (0.19, 0.26 and 0.24, respectively), but energy sorghum had a Bowen ratio closer to maize than miscanthus (0.12, 0.13 and 0.21, respectively). Nitrous oxide (N2O) flux was higher from maize and energy sorghum (8.86 and 12.04 kg N ha−1, respectively) compared with miscanthus (0.51 kg N ha−1), indicative of their different agronomic management. These results are an important first look at how energy sorghum compares to maize and miscanthus grown in the Midwest United States. This quantitative assessment is a critical component for calibrating biogeochemical and ecological models used to forecast bioenergy crop growth, productivity and sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-458
Number of pages14
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • bioenergy cropping systems
  • carbon
  • eddy covariance
  • light use efficiency
  • nitrogen
  • water use efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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