Water use efficiency of perennial and annual bioenergy crops in central Illinois

Marcelo Zeri, Mir Zaman Hussain, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Evan Delucia, Carl J. Bernacchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainable bioenergy production depends upon the efficiency with which crops use available water to produce biomass and store carbon belowground. Therefore, water use efficiency (WUE; productivity vs. annual evapotranspiration, ET) is a key metric of bioenergy crop performance. We evaluate WUE of three potential perennial grass bioenergy crops, Miscanthus × giganteus (miscanthus), Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), and an assemblage of prairie species (28 species), and Zea mays-Glycine max rotation, during the establishment phase in Illinois. Ecosystem WUE (EWUE; net ecosystem productivity vs. ET) was highest in miscanthus, reaching a maximum value of 12.8 ± 0.3 kg ha-1 mm-1 in the third year, followed by switchgrass (7.5 ± 0.3 kg ha-1 mm-1) and prairie (3.9 ± 0.3 kg ha-1 mm-1); the row crop was the lowest. Besides EWUE, harvest-WUE (HWUE, harvested biomass vs. ET) and net biome productivity-WUE (BWUE, calculated as net ecosystem production - harvest vs. ET) were also estimated for all crops and years. After three years of establishment, HWUE and BWUE were highest in miscanthus (9.0 ± 2 and 3.8 ± 2.9 kg ha-1 mm-1, respectively) providing a net benefit to the carbon balance, while the row crops had a negative carbon balance and a negative BWUE. BWUE for maize/soybean indicate that this ecosystem would deplete the soil carbon stocks while using the water resources. Switchgrass had the second highest BWUE, while prairie was almost neutral indicating that long-term carbon sequestration for this agro-ecosystem would be sensitive to harvest timing with an early harvest removing more biomass, and thus carbon, from the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)581-589
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • Agriculture
  • Carbon balance
  • Water Use Efficiency
  • biofuels

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science
  • Forestry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Palaeontology


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