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


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published by CAST Commentary
QTA2007-1 November 2007


In an effort to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, expand domestic energy production, and maintain economic growth, public and private investments are being used to pursue dedicated feedstock crops for biofuel production. Unlike food crops grown for grain-based ethanol (e.g., corn), which require high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides and typically are grown on prime agricultural land, proposed lignocellulose-based energy crops (e.g., switchgrass) typically have a neutral or negative carbon budget, require relatively few economic or environmental inputs, and can be cultivated on marginal, lower-productivity land. Thus, a rapidly growing industry related to crop selection, cultivar improvement, and conversion technologies is emerging.
A variety of plant species, including grasses, herbs, and trees, are being considered for use as dedicated biofuel crops across much of the United States (Figure 1). The leading candidates for lignocellulose-based energy, however, are primarily rhizomatous (i.e., having below ground vegetative reproductive structures) perennial grasses. Most of these grasses are not native to much of the region where production is proposed (Lewandowski et al. 2003). From an agronomic perspective, their life history characteristics, rapid growth rates, and tonnage of biomass produced by these nonnative grasses make them ideal feedstock crops.