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Bioenergy Crops and Carbon Sequestration

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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions constitute a global problem. The need for agricultural involvement in GHG mitigation has been widely recognized since the 1990s. The concept of C sinks, C credits, and emission trading has attracted special interests in herbaceous and woody species as energy crops and source of biofuel feedstock. Bioenergy crops are defined as any plant material used to produce bioenergy. These crops have the capacity to produce large volume of biomass, high energy potential, and can be grown in marginal soils. Planting bioenergy crops in degraded soils is one of the promising agricultural options with C sequestration rates ranging from 0.6 to 3.0 Mg C ha -1 yr -1 . About 60 million hectares (Mha) of land is available in the United States and 757 Mha in the world to grow bioenergy crops. With an energy offset of 1 kg of C in biomass per 0.6 kg of C in fossil fuel, there exists a vast potential of offsetting fossil fuel emission. Bioenergy crops have the potential to sequester approximately 318 Tg C yr -1 in the United States and 1631 Tg C yr -1 worldwide. Bioenergy crops consist of herbaceous bunch-type grasses and short-rotation woody perennials. Important grasses include switchgrass ( Panicum virgatum L.), elephant grass ( Pennissetum purpureum Schum.), tall fescue ( Fetusca arundinacea L.), etc. Important among short-rotation woody perennials are poplar ( Populus spp.), willow ( Salix spp.), mesquite ( Prosopis spp.), etc. The emissions of CO 2 from using switchgrass as energy crop is 1.9 kg C Gj -1 compared with 13.8, 22.3, and 24.6 kg C Gj -1 from using gas, petroleum, and coal, respectively. Mitigation of GHG emissions cannot be achieved by C sinks alone, a substantial reduction in fossil fuel combustion will be necessary. Carbon sequestration and fossil fuel offset by bioenergy crops is an important component of a possible total societal response to a GHG emission reduction initiative.
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Keywords: C sequestration; biofuel; biomass; greenhouse effect; poplar; soil C dynamics; switchgrass; willow

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA

Publication date: 01 January 2005

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