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Department of Chemical Engineering


‘Marginal lands’ are low productivity sites abandoned from agriculture for reasons such as low or high soil water content, challenging topography, or nutrient deficiency. To avoid competition with crop production, cellulosic bioenergy crops have been proposed for cultivation on marginal lands, however on these sites they may be more strongly affected by environmental stresses such as low soil water content. In this study we used rainout shelters to induce low soil moisture on marginal lands and determine the effect of soil water stress on switchgrass growth and the subsequent production of bioethanol. Five marginal land sites that span a latitudinal gradient in Michigan and Wisconsin were planted to switchgrass in 2013 and during the 2018–2021 growing seasons were exposed to reduced precipitation under rainout shelters in comparison to ambient precipitation. The effect of reduced precipitation was related to the environmental conditions at each site and biofuel production metrics (switchgrass biomass yields and composition and ethanol production). During the first year (2018), the rainout shelters were designed with 60% rain exclusion, which did not affect biomass yields compared to ambient conditions at any of the field sites, but decreased switchgrass fermentability at the Wisconsin Central–Hancock site. In subsequent years, the shelters were redesigned to fully exclude rainfall, which led to reduced biomass yields and inhibited fermentation for three sites. When switchgrass was grown in soils with large reductions in moisture and increases in temperature, the potential for biofuel production was significantly reduced, exposing some of the challenges associated with producing biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass grown under drought conditions.

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© 2024 The Authors. GCB Bioenergy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Publisher’s version of record:

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GCB Bioenergy

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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