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Current and potential sustainable corn stover feedstock for biofuel production in the United States

Tan, Zhengxi, Liu, Shuguang, Bliss, Norman, Tieszen, Larry L.
Biomass and bioenergy 2012 v.47 pp. 372-386
harvesting, Zea mays, soil organic carbon, bioethanol, tillage, soil quality, corn, soil, corn stover, field experimentation, harvest index, feedstocks, biomass, crop rotation, climatic factors, soil erosion, sustainable agriculture, United States
Increased demand for corn (Zea mays L.) stover as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol raises concerns about agricultural sustainability. Excessive corn stover harvesting could have long-term impacts on soil quality. We estimated current and future stover production and evaluated the potential harvestable stover amount (HSA) that could be used for biofuel feedstock in the United States by defining the minimum stover requirement (MSR) associated with the current soil organic carbon (SOC) content, tillage practices, and crop rotation systems. Here we show that the magnitude of the current HSA is limited (31 Tg y⁻¹, dry matter) due to the high MSR for maintaining the current SOC content levels of soils that have a high carbon content. An alternative definition of MSR for soils with a moderate level of SOC content could significantly elevate the annual HSA to 68.7 Tg, or even to 132.2 Tg if the amount of currently applied manure is counted to partially offset the MSR. In the future, a greater potential for stover feedstock could come from an increase in stover yield, areal harvest index, and/or the total planted area. These results suggest that further field experiments on MSR should be designed to identify differences in MSR magnitude between maintaining SOC content and preventing soil erosion, and to understand the role of current SOC content level in determining MSR from soils with a wide range of carbon contents and climatic conditions.