With scientists progressing in their efforts to turn crop residues such as corn stover into ethanol, demonstration processing plants could begin using such materials within the next year, according to experts speaking during a recent conference at South Dakota State University.
Bruce Jamerson, president of VeraSun Energy Corp., a Brookings, S.D., ethanol producer, says biomass technology has the potential to revolutionize the ethanol and fuel industries. The industry should see demonstration plants coming online within the next year or two, with full commercialization in 3 to 5 years, he says. “There’s no question in my mind that this will come, and we have to be ready for it,” he adds.
Corn residue is being eyed as a raw material for ethanol because it is abundant and can provide additional income to no-tillers supplying the ethanol industry, says Susan Andrews, an ecologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But Jamerson says residues such as corn stover and wheat straw are just a fraction of the potential sources of cellulosic or biomass fuel. Energy crops such as switchgrass and elephant grass, and fast-growing trees such as aspen and willow, can produce more tons per acre for the ethanol industry, he says, and other potential sources include garbage and forestry resources such as chips, bark and sawdust.
Andrews also cautions that corn stover already plays an important role in fields by combating erosion, adding organic matter and nutrients to soil and increasing biological activity. “Residues perform many ecosystem services, and their removal should…