At the GLBRC, sustainability researchers are exploring complex issues in agricultural and industrial systems. Research focuses on understanding the attributes and mechanisms responsible for the environmental sustainability of biofuel production systems, such as environmental impacts — many of which may be positive — and socioeconomic factors including incentives and policy options
A crop and soil scientist and ecosystem ecologist, Robertson focuses much of his research on the role that agriculture plays in greenhouse gas dynamics, and he is internationally known for his expertise in this area. Robertson has been the director...
Jackson’s program focuses on structure and function of managed, semi-natural and natural grassland ecosystems. Research in Jackson’s grassland ecology lab spans many levels of ecological organization, from grass identification at the DNA level to landscape diversity effects on alternative biofuels...
GLBRC Sustainability research ranges from the microbial community level to regional modeling, and researchers conduct fieldwork at different project sites to reflect this diversity of scale. Small plots at Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan and the Arlington Agricultural Research Station in Wisconsin provide locations for measurement-intensive experiments, while investigators work in larger scale-up fields to collect data on carbon balances and biogeochemical processes. Finally, researchers pursue ecosystem-level biodiversity questions across landscapes, including marginal lands, in central Michigan and Wisconsin.
Specific sustainability projects include:
- Novel biofuel production systems
- Microbial-plant interactions for improved biofuel production
- Biogeochemical responses
- Biodiversity responses
- Economic responses
- Modeling, design and testing of drop-in fuels
- Process synthesis and technoeconomic evaluation for biomass-to-fuels technologies.
Cellulosic feedstock production on Conservation Reserve Program land: potential yields and environmental effects
Comparative productivity of alternative cellulosic bioenergy croppingsystems in the North Central USA
Biofuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks have the potential to improve a wide range of ecosystem services while simultaneously reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Here, we report on the six-year production potential (above ground net primary production, ANPP), post-frost harvested biomass (yield), and gross harvest efficiency (GHE = yield/ANPP) of seven model bioenergy cropping systems in both southcentral Wisconsin (ARL) and southwest Michigan (KBS). The cropping systems studied were continuous corn (Zea mays L.), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), giant miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus Greef & Deuter ex Hodkinson & Renvoize), hybrid poplar (Populus nigra × P. maximowiczii A. Henry ‘NM6’), a native grass mixture (5 sown species), an early successional community, and a restored prairie (18 sown species). Overall the most productive cropping systems were corn > giant miscanthus > and switchgrass, which were significantly more productive than native grasses ≈ restored prairie ≈ early successional ≈ and hybrid poplar, although some systems (e.g. hybrid poplar) differed significantly by location. Highest total ANPP was observed in giant miscanthus (35.2 ± 2.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1) at KBS during the sixth growing season. Six-year cumulative biomass yield from hybrid poplar at KBS (55.4 ± 1.3 Mg ha−1) was high but significantly lower than corn and giant miscanthus (65.5 ± 1.5, 65.2 ± 5.5 Mg ha−1, respectively). Hypothesized yield advantages of diversity in perennial cropping systems were not observed during this period. Harvested biomass yields were 60, 56, and 44% of ANPP for corn, perennial grass, and restored prairie, respectively, suggesting that relatively simple changes in agronomic management (e.g. harvest timing and harvest equipment modification) may provide significant gains in bioenergy crop yields. Species composition was an important determinant of GHE in more diverse systems. Results show that well-established, dedicated bioenergy crops are capable of producing as much biomass as corn stover, but with fewer inputs.
Detection of short-term cropping system-induced changes to soil bacterial communities differs among four molecular characterization methods