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Switchgrass As A Sustainable Bioenergy Crop
Published 1996 · Biology
Abstract Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) shows potential as a sustainable herbaceous energy crop from which a renewable source of transportation fuel and/or biomass-generated electricity could be derived. In 1992, a new research program focused on developing switchgrass as a biomass energy feedstock was initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy in five of the southern United States. The multifaceted, multi-institution research addresses breeding for improved biomass yields, regional field tests, cultural practices, physiology and tissue culture. Recent progress is highlighted in this paper. Preliminary results from the breeding program indicate that recurrent restricted phenotypic selection could lead to development of new cultivars. A technique for regenerating switchgrass plants via tissue culture has been proven and new populations of regenerated plants have been established in the field. Performance trials at three regional cultivar testing centers in Virginia, Alabama and Texas have shown that ‘Alamo’ switchgrass has higher biomass yield and broader adaptability than other cultivars tested. Research on management practices designed to maximize biomass yield has shown that multiple harvests of switchgrass may reduce total seasonal yields in some instances and that responses to fertilizer inputs vary with the environment. Seed dormancy often retards rapid establishment of competitive stands of switchgrass. Our research has indicated that seed dormancy can be modified, resulting in increased seed germination and a greater number of switchgrass plants. Research on the physiology of switchgrass has shown that lowland and upland ecotypes differ in photosynthetic rate but not in respiration rate. Findings in each of these areas can contribute to development of switchgrass as a sustainable bioenergy crop. Future research will address molecular biology techniques for exploiting genetic variation, explore canopy architecture and carbon allocation patterns affecting biomass yield, elucidate key factors in successful establishment of switchgrass and provide technology transfer that facilitates scale-up of switchgrass production for commercial energy production.