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Overfertilizing Corn Undermines Ethanol: Researchers Find Feeding Crops Too Heavily Bad for Biofuel, Environment

Date: 31.3.2011 

The researchers found that liberal use of nitrogen fertilizer to maximize grain yields from corn crops results in only marginally more usable cellulose from leaves and stems. And when the grain is used for food and the cellulose is processed for biofuel, pumping up the rate of nitrogen fertilization actually makes it more difficult to extract ethanol from corn leaves and stems. This happens, they discovered, because surplus nitrogen fertilizer speeds up the biochemical pathway that produces lignin, a molecule that must be removed before cellulosic ethanol can be produced from corn stems and leaves.

While farmers have a clear incentive to maximize grain yields, the research shows a path to even greater benefits when corn residues are harvested for cellulosic ethanol production, she said.



Original Paper:

Morgan E. Gallagher, William C. Hockaday, Caroline A. Masiello, Sieglinde Snapp, Claire P. McSwiney, Jeffrey A. Baldock. Biochemical Suitability of Crop Residues for Cellulosic Ethanol: Disincentives to Nitrogen Fertilization in Corn Agriculture. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011; 45 (5): 2013 DOI: 10.1021/es103252s




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