U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 144 (2011) 319–329; doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.09.006


Perennial grass bio-fuels may contribute to long-term carbon sequestration in soils, thereby providing a broad range of environmental benefits. To quantify those benefits, the carbon balance was investigated over three perennial grass bio-fuel crops – miscanthus (Miscanthus×giganteus), switch-grass (Panicum virgatum) and a mixture of native prairie plants – and a row crop control (maize–maize–soy) in Central Illinois, USA, during the establishment phase of the perennial grasses (2008–2011). The eddy covariance technique was used to calculate fluxes of carbon dioxide and energy balance components, such as latent and sensible heat fluxes. Whereas maize attained the highest maximal carbon uptake rates, the perennial grasses had significantly extended growing seasons, such that their total carbon uptake rivaled that of corn in the second growing season and greatly exceeded that of soy in the third growing season. To account for the removal of carbon through harvest, net ecosystem exchange of carbon (NEE) was combined with estimates of yields, resulting in the net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB). After 2.5 years, NECB for the maize/soybean plot was positive (a source of carbon), while the grasses were a sink of carbon. Continuous measurements over the next years are required in order to confirm whether miscanthus, switch-grass and prairie can sustain a long-term sink of carbon if managed for bio-fuels, i.e., if harvested annually.