Professors grow plants for biofuel purposes
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 23:09
Steven Green, associate professor of soil and water conservation, is putting his six years of bioenergy research to the test with the introduction of miscanthus to the ASU farm complex.
Miscanthus, a fast growing crop used for biofuel, can be processed into ethanol when enzymes are used to convert cellulose from the plant into sugars. The plant comes up in late March and will grow until it freezes.
“The first year it might be three or four feet tall,” Green said. “The second year it might be six or seven feet.”
Green is also working with Kevin Humphrey, associate professor of agricultural education, in the process.
Humphrey’s role in the process is to convert the oil from the misanthus seeds into the actual biofuel.
There are approximately 16 plots of miscanthus on the farm complex.
The project came about through MFA Oil/Biomass, a company whose goal is to create a vertically integrated renewable energy supply chain by combining knowledge of energy markets with the farming knowledge of its members, according to mfaoil.com.
“Our ultimate goal is to grow a minimum of 30,000 acres in Arkansas to fuel a liquid fuel plant that will be built,” Tim Wooldridge, NEA project manager of MFA Oil/Biomass, said.
The fuel plant will bring in $193 million, or 20 million gallons of fuel a year. It will help to bring more jobs and more money to the region.
On the farm complex the miscanthus is aiding in research to determine how soil nutrients are used.
The plots are provided with regular fertilizer, no fertilizer, poultry litter and municipal biosolids, a type of sludge taken from wastewater.
“My focus is soil sustainability,” Green said.
Allison Gurley, a sophomore plant and soil science major of Piggot, assists Green with the crops and helps with the planting of some of the miscanthus roots.
“We had to hand plant every single one,” she said of one plot.
“Out here on the farm the students are the ones driving the tractors and planting the crops,” Green said.
The plots that were planted by hand are part of a project in which ASU is partnering with the University of Illinois.
Miscanthus crops were chosen for the area because they produce more tonnage per acre, they build up the soil and will create a tremendous economic impact, Wooldridge said.
MFA brought special planters from Europe to the farm to plant the miscanthus roots.
“There are some real sophisticated parts of it,” Wooldridge added.
The economic benefits of miscanthus reach beyond bringing in revenue. The farmer grown energy will lessen the dependency on foreign oil.
“It will obviously be a better price,” Wooldridge said, adding that the fuel will probably be used at ASU.
Last year was the first year of planting in NEA with 6,600 acres, and 1,000 acres were added this year, bringing the total to 7,600 acres.
“MFA is grateful to ASU and Dr. Greene for supporting and helping a growing industry,” Wooldridge said.