Interactions between Bioenergy Cropping Systems and Water Resources
Modern society is highly dependent on energy. Our major energy sources at the moment such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal are non-renewable, and they are being depleted day by day. In addition, these major energy sources are the cause of environmental pollution. As concerns about environmental pollution and energy security increase, societies start looking for renewable energy sources, which are environmentally safe. Bioenergy, the energy obtained from plant biomass, is one candidate.
The US has a goal of producing more than 36 billion gallons of biofuels annually by 2022 (US Congress, 2007), primarily as ethanol. Production of ethanol in the US has been predominantly from corn grain. But, future increases in biofuel production are expected to come mostly from cellulosic feedstock (Johnson et al., 2007; Snider et al., 2010). The increased production of bioenergy must be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Following the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (US Congress, 2007), several States in US have taken measures to establish sustainable bioenergy cropping systems (Hoekman, 2009). In Oklahoma a variety of bioenergy crops are being studied by the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, a collaboration between the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Noble Foundation. These crops include switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans L.), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman), and high biomass sorghum (Sorghum bicolar L.).
Water and bioenergy are inseparable. The production of bioenergy needs water during both biomass production and industrial processing. Large scale productin of bioenergy crops may have significant, both positive and negative, impacts on water and land resources (Berndes, 2002; Dale et al., 2011). Therefore, it is important to understand the interactions between bioenergy cropping systems and water resources.
The overall objective of this research is to evaluate the interaction between candidate bioenergy cropping systems and water resources in the state of Oklahoma. The bioenergy crops considered include switchgrass, high biomass sorghum, indian grass, and big bluestem. The results from this research will help policy makers and other stakeholders in understanding the complex issues regarding bioenergy crop production and its interactions with water resources.
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