Key environmental and production factors for understanding variation in switchgrass chemical attributes

Amber N. Hoover, Rachel Emerson, Marnie Cortez, Vance Owens, Ed Wolfrum, Courtney Payne, John Fike, Jamie Crawford, Ryan Crawford, Rodney Farris, Julie Hansen, Emily A. Heaton, Sandeep Kumar, Hilary Mayton, Danielle M. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a promising feedstock for bioenergy and bioproducts; however, its inherent variability in chemical attributes creates challenges for uniform conversion efficiencies and product quality. It is necessary to understand the range of variation and factors (i.e., field management, environmental) influencing chemical attributes for process improvement and risk assessment. The objectives of this study were to (1) examine the impact of nitrogen fertilizer application rate, year, and location on switchgrass chemical attributes, (2) examine the relationships among chemical attributes, weather and soil data, and (3) develop models to predict chemical attributes using environmental factors. Switchgrass samples from a field study spanning four locations including upland cultivars, one location including a lowland cultivar, and between three and six harvest years were assessed for glucan, xylan, lignin, volatiles, carbon, nitrogen, and ash concentrations. Using variance estimation, location/cultivar, nitrogen application rate, and year explained 65%–96% of the variation for switchgrass chemical attributes. Location/cultivar × year interaction was a significant factor for all chemical attributes indicating environmental-based influences. Nitrogen rate was less influential. Production variables and environmental conditions occurring during the switchgrass field trials were used to successfully predict chemical attributes using linear regression models. Upland switchgrass results highlight the complexity in plant responses to growing conditions because all production and environmental variables had strong relationships with one or more chemical attributes. Lowland switchgrass was limited to observations of year-to-year environmental variability and nitrogen application rate. All explanatory variable categories were important for lowland switchgrass models but stand age and precipitation relationships were particularly strong. The relationships found in this study can be used to understand spatial and temporal variation in switchgrass chemical attributes. The ability to predict chemical attributes critical for conversion processes in a geospatial/temporal manner would provide state-of-the-art knowledge for risk assessment in the bioenergy and bioproducts industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)776-792
Number of pages17
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Regional Feedstock Partnership
  • bioenergy
  • drought
  • environmental explanatory variables
  • lowland ecotype
  • nitrogen
  • production factors
  • upland ecotype

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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