The sugar, biomass and biofuel potential of temperate by tropical maize hybrids

Wendy G. White, Michael L. Vincent, Stephen P. Moose, Frederick E. Below

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The demand for biofuels has created a market for feedstocks to meet future energy requirements. Temperate × tropical maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids, which combine high biomass and fermentable stalk sugars, have yet to be considered as a biomass feedstock. Our objective was to evaluate biological potential, genetic variability and impact of nitrogen (N) on biomass, stalk sugar, and biofuel potential of temperate × tropical maize (TTM) hybrids. Twelve TTM hybrids, two grain and silage hybrids were grown in 2008, followed in 2009 by seven earshoot-bagged TTM hybrids. In both years, they were grown with and without supplemental N (202 kg ha-1) in Champaign, IL. Plants were sampled for total and partitioned biomass, and analyzed for concentration and content of sugar. The TTM hybrids were 40% taller, exhibited later reproductive maturity, greater flowering asynchrony, and remained green longer. All hybrids responded to supplemental N by producing more biomass and grain, a lower percent of biomass partitioned to stalk and leaf, whereas TTM also had a decreased concentration of sugar. Total average biomass yields were 24 Mg ha-1 for both the TTM and grain hybrids. However, TTM partitioned 50% more biomass to the stalk and produced 50% more sugar, and had less than half the grain of the commercial hybrids, indicating grain production and sugar accumulation are inversely related. When grain formation was prevented by earshoot bagging, TTM hybrids produced, without supplemental N fertilizer, an average of 4024 kg ha-1 of sugar, which was three- to four-fold greater than the non earshoot-bagged TTM and ear removed hybrid. Calculated estimates for ethanol production, considering the potential from sugar, stover and grain, indicate TTM can yield nearly the amount of ethanol per hectare as modern grain hybrids, but with a decreased requirement for supplemental fertilizer N.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-508
Number of pages13
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Biofuel
  • Biomass
  • Maize
  • Nitrogen
  • Stalk sugar
  • Temperate × tropical maize
  • Zea mays

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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