Sustainable crop residue removal

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by Matt Merritt

Two concepts we’ve prioritized in crop residue harvesting at POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels: “being careful” and “following the research.”


Two concepts we’ve prioritized in crop residue harvesting at POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels: “being careful” and “following the research.”


This is important, both from an environmental standpoint and from a pure business standpoint. We need to focus on sustainability to make sure we realize the enormous potential of cellulosic ethanol production. That’s why we’re in the fifth year of on-going study with Iowa State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers to monitor in the field the effects of biomass harvesting on soil.


I wanted to bring that up today in light of Purdue University modeling that cautions people about possible environmental implications of collecting corn stover, such as greenhouse gas emissions and erosion. This is a valuable topic for continued research, given the important role biomass will have on our nation’s energy future.


A couple key points regarding POET-DSM’s method for biomass harvesting.


-          The Purdue researchers modeled removal of 52% of the above ground biomass and 38% (what they called the “low end of the environmental impact scale” in their work). At POET-DSM, we’re contracting for 20-25% of the above-ground biomass. Farmers we work with are taking about 1 ton per acre and leaving about 3 tons or more of material in the field.


-          On those fields, the data has shown that erosion is not a factor and nutrient replacement is minimal. “Basically, at the removal level that POET-DSM recommends, there is no reduction in yield, and removal rates are well within the sustainability limits,” said Dr. Stuart Birrell with Iowa State University.


POET-DSM is being conservative in contracting for feedstock so that we can ensure that cellulosic ethanol production is done in the best way possible. We will not increase our stover per acre unless it is clear that it is the right path. And we want to share our information going forward so that all farmers can learn the best way possible to incorporate this new opportunity into their farm operation. 




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Sustainable crop residue removal

by Matt Merritt

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