Corn stover for ethanol production: potential and pitfalls

Jan 2009

Designing a renewable fuel production system that is truly sustainable will require a comprehensive but flexible framework of environmental safeguards and a concerted effort to collect improved information about the environmental performance of biomass-derived fuels and how production impacts respond to management tools.
Such impacts include the short-term impacts illustrated here, as well as a suite of other short- and long-term issues including impacts on soil productivity, fertilizer demand and nutrient pollution, as well as on biodiversity and habitat quality. The results shown in this study suggest that corn stover, though promising as a feedstock because of the existing corn production infrastructure, has drawbacks from an environmental perspective because it is already performing a valuable soil and water quality service in replenishing soil carbon and controlling erosion.
The feasibility and costs of replacing those services must be carefully weighed in an analysis of the desirability of diverting corn stover, or any other agricultural residues serving the same environmental functions, for ethanol production.

By: L. Marshall, Z. Sugg (WRI Policy Note)

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