To Plant Energy Crops or Not?
A new calculator to the rescue
Miscanthus or switchgrass? Hybrid poplar or mixed grasses? What about corn stover? Growing biomass for energy raises many questions – for farmers, energy producers, and policymakers. A new calculator helps answer a key question: profitability. The new Feedstock Cost and Profitability Calculator provides an estimate of the break-even price needed to cover the costs of producing biomass from alternative feedstocks in three key states, Michigan, Illinois, and Oklahoma.
Specifically, this calculator computes the minimum price per ton of biomass crop that would be needed to cover all the costs of producing the biomass. In the case of energy crops grown on cropland, this includes the income given up by converting cropland to energy crops, while in the case of energy crops grown on marginal land it includes the county soil rental rate for the Conservation Reserve Program in that county as an indicator of the cost of land.
To use the calculator, you select the state and county, current crop on the land you plan to convert to an energy crop, and the type of biomass crop you plan to grow. Navigate through each of the tabs in the menu bar to see the default assumptions for your county and view results. The breakeven costs of energy crops can be estimated under two alternative scenarios. The low-cost scenario assumes relative ease of establishing the crop, low nutrient requirements, low costs of harvesting and baling, and lower harvest losses as compared to the high-cost scenario.
The calculator is based on research conducted by Professor Madhu Khanna and Dr. Haixiao Huang at the Energy Biosciences Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The web interface was developed by Centrec Consulting.
Food and Fuel Focus
Taking on one of the biggest issues in biofuels development, the University of California, San Diego has created a new research unit it is calling “Food and Fuel for the 21st Century,” or FF-21 for short.
“With the world population predicted to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, and a per-capita continuing increase in food and energy consumption globally, the challenge of the present century is to sustainably produce food and energy,” said Julian Schroeder, co-founder of the research unit with Stephen Mayfield, both professors of biological sciences at UCSD.
The center’s focus is to use photosynthetic organisms to develop sustainable, commercially viable solutions to the production of food, energy, green chemistry bio-products, said Mayfield, who also serves as director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology.
The center is bringing together research scientists in the fields of biology, chemistry, engineering, economics, and policy. In addition to basic research it aims to speed technology transfer and help engage policymakers in discussion about the use of photosynthetic organisms for food production and energy independence.
Worldwide Investment in Clean Energy, 2011
Where Bioenergy Stands
Investment in bioenergy trailed money going to wind and solar across the globe in 2011, but the U.S. attracted the greatest levels of investment in biofuels (and in efficiency and solar), according to the Pew Charitable Trust report, Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race, released this spring. Globally, $263 billion was invested in clean energy, continuing a decade-long trend. The combination of growing investment and falling prices last year led to a record in clean energy installations worldwide. Out of 565 GW (gigawatts) of installed clean energy in 2011, biomass and waste to energy accounted for 56 GW, according to the report.