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A Review Of Carbon And Nitrogen Balances In Switchgrass Grown For Energy

D. I. Bransby, S. Mclaughlin, D. Parrish
Published 1998 · Chemistry

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Abstract Increased atmospheric CO2, caused partly by burning fossil fuels, is assumed to elevate the risk of global warming, while nitrate contamination of surface runoff and groundwater from fertilizer and agricultural wastes constitutes a serious environmental hazard on a regional scale. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) grown as an energy crop could reduce atmospheric CO2 accumulation by replacing fossil fuels and sequestering C. It could also improve soil productivity by C sequestration, and reduce NO−13 contamination of water by absorbing N lost from fertilizer and agricultural waste if planted in filter strips on adjacent land. The objective of this study was to assess potential impacts of switchgrass on C and N balances by reviewing and synthesizing information from current literature, unpublished data and on-going research. Replacing fossil fuels with switchgrass, or any other biomass, will have a much greater effect on atmospheric CO2 than C sequestration. This is because replacing fossil fuels provides a cumulative effect, while C sequestration offers only a one-time benefit. Furthermore, switchgrass will provide net gains in C sequestration only if it replaces annual row crops, but not if it replaces grazed pasture. Nitrogen recovery by switchgrass in an Alabama study was 65.6%, which compares favorably with the 50% recovery frequently quoted as the norm for wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and corn (Zea mays L).
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