Research Objective and Hypotheses

This project seeks to provide comprehensive comparisons of contrasting biomass feedstock production systems with respect to biomass production potential, fossil fuel replacement value, impacts on soil and water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, belowground C sequestration, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. This is a large project that involves collaboration of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and economists at Iowa State University and Southern Illinois University. The project affords a unique opportunity to test questions about biomass feedstock production that are critical to crop producers, crop processors, and policy makers.

Our hypotheses are that (1) diverse perennial feedstocks can have greater economic and energy efficiency than corn-based feedstock production systems; (2) diverse perennial feedstocks can lose smaller quantities of nutrients to drainage water, sequester more C, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and N2O) than corn- and soybean-based systems, and (3) cover crops will reduce nutrient and C losses from corn production systems. Empirical data, modeling studies, and profitability analyses allow us to test these hypotheses.

Our intent is to compare contrasting biofuel feedstock production systems using multiple performance criteria that are identified in our overall objectives above. It is likely that no single production system will score highly with regard to all performance indicators. Consequently, we will investigate trade-offs and opportunities to optimize system performance relative to many criteria, rather than maximizing any single performance characteristic . Therefore, our goal is to provide meaningful public information that will lead to informed judgments about the economic, energetic, and environmental sustainability of each production system and how a mosaic of these systems on the landscape might be optimized for sustainable food and energy production.