Commercial-Scale Energy Crop Production: Establishing Switchgrass in Tennessee

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With the advancement of cellulosic ethanol technologies in recent years, more emphasis is being placed on the production of a sustainable supply of biomass for commercial scale facilities. These facilities will require significant supplies of biomass that will, in the southeast, come from private lands. The University of Tennessee, through its Biofuels Initiative, is working with private farmers to produce switchgrass on a large scale. The UT Biofuels Initiative is a research and demonstration effort to advance cellulosic ethanol technologies by establishing a dedicated biomass supply and constructing a pilot scale cellulosic ethanol production facility.

Working with private farmers, the Initiative is well on its way to planting 6,000 acres of switchgrass in a 50-mile radius area around the pilot plant site. The Initiative has developed an incentive program to attract participation from local farms. To participate in the program, Farmers submit an application and are selected based upon a set of criteria. In return for their participation and through a three-year contract, famers receive seed, technical support, and a yearly per acre payment to establish switchgrass. Once the switchgrass is harvested, the bales become property of the University. In 2008, the Initiative planted 723 acres. In 2009, a planned 2,000 acres will be planted, with an eventual scale-up to 6,000 acres.

The establishment of a dedicated energy crop on this scale creates a unique opportunity to conduct a range of research and development activities. The optimization of practices agronomic production, transportation and logistics, storage, preprocessing, biochemical cellulosic ethanol production, and bioproduct production are important to the success of a biorefinery.&'
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