Policy support for cellulosic biofuels is contingent on their achieving much greater reductions in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than corn starch ethanol. Biomass sorghum has been suggested as a genetically and agronomically tractable feedstock species to augment near-term cellulosic feedstock production. This study used DayCent modeling to investigate biomass sorghum production emissions relative to corn with and without stover utilization at 3,265 across the rainfed United States. Sorghum produced greater average feedstock dry matter (15.6 ± 1.4 vs 14.8 ± 2.2 Mg ha-1 yr-1) and slightly lower estimated ethanol energy yields (10.6 ± 1.0 vs 11.8 ± 2.9 MJ m-2 yr-1) as corn grain with 75% stover collection. The high biomass removals in both the sorghum and corn stover scenarios led to soil organic carbon losses on 90 and 100% of sites, respectively. Average feedstock production emissions intensities were similar between sorghum and corn with 75% stover removal (17.6 ± 2.8 vs 18.8 ± 3.0 g CO2e MJ-1), but were notably lower under sorghum for sites in the southwestern study region (13.6 ± 3.0 vs 22.5 ± 3.1 g CO2e MJ-1). These results suggest that biomass sorghum produces cellulosic feedstock with similar emissions to corn grain and at current yield levels is unlikely to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard emissions reduction threshold for cellulosic biofuels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry