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Carbon budgets of potential tropical perennial grass cropping scenarios for bioenergy feedstock production

Pawlowski, Meghan, Meki, Manyowa N., Kiniry, James R., Crow, Susan E.
Carbon balance and management 2018 v.13 no.1 pp. 17
Cenchrus purpureus, Saccharum officinarum, agricultural land, basins, bioenergy, biomass production, carbon, climate, climate change, cost effectiveness, crops, deficit irrigation, emissions, energy, feedstocks, fossil fuels, fuel production, global warming potential, grasses, greenhouse gases, no-tillage, perennials, planning, soil profiles, sugarcane, volcanic islands, Maui
BACKGROUND: The environmental costs of fossil fuel consumption are globally recognized, opening many pathways for the development of regional portfolio solutions for sustainable replacement fuel and energy options. The purpose of this study was to create a baseline carbon (C) budget of a conventionally managed sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) production system on Maui, Hawaii, and compare it to three different future energy cropping scenarios: (1) conventional sugarcane with a 50% deficit irrigation (sugarcane 50%), (2) ratoon harvested napiergrass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumach.) with 100% irrigation (napier 100%), and (3) ratoon harvested napiergrass with a 50% deficit irrigation (napier 50%). RESULTS: The differences among cropping scenarios for the fossil fuel-based emissions associated with agricultural inputs and field operations were small compared to the differences associated with pre-harvest burn emissions and soil C stock under ratoon harvest and zero-tillage management. Burn emissions were nearly 2000 kg Cₑq ha⁻¹ year⁻¹ in the conventional sugarcane; whereas soil C gains were approximately 4500 kg Cₑq ha⁻¹ year⁻¹ in the surface layer of the soil profile for napiergrass. Further, gains in deep soil profile C were nearly three times greater than in the surface layer. Therefore, net global warming potential was greatest for conventional sugarcane and least for napier 50% when deep profile soil C was included. Per unit of biomass yield, the most greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive scenario was sugarcane 50% with a GHG Index (GHGI, positive values imply a climate impact, so a more negative value is preferable for climate change mitigation) of 0.11 and the least intensive was napiergrass 50% when a deep soil profile was included (GHGI = − 0.77). CONCLUSION: Future scenarios for energy or fuel production on former sugarcane land across the Pacific Basin or other volcanic islands should concentrate on ratoon-harvested crops that maintain yields under zero-tillage management for long intervals between kill harvest and reduce costs of field operations and agricultural input requirements. For napiergrass on Maui and elsewhere, deficit irrigation maximized climate change mitigation of the system and reduced water use should be part of planning a sustainable, diversified agricultural landscape.