Switchgrass

SC Bioenergy Summit

Interest in renewable forms of energy has increased due to concern for the future supply of fossil fuels, the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels on air quality, and the desire to support local agriculture. Although considered a global issue, utilizing switchgrass as a biofuel is a significant local development.

Clemson University's switchgrass website focuses on these topics:

  • Location - description of South Carolina's Pee Dee region
  • Focus - five year program goals
  • Production - contract growing, cultivation knowledgebase
  • Conference review - posters, photos from inaugural meeting
  • Collaborators - encompassing program disciplines

Crops such as corn and soybeans are currently being used to produce biofuels. Scientists are exploring ways warm-season grasses (such as switchgrass, Panicum virgatum) can be used for making ethanol from plant cellulose, for raw material in coal-fired electric generation facilities, and/or for making synfuels. Compared with other plant species, ethanol made from perennial warm-season grasses can result in:

  • less energy needed for production,
  • a reduction in greenhouse gases,
  • less potential for agrichemical pollution,
  • crop production on poorer soils,
  • less displacement of land for food production or loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction,
  • fewer environmental impacts.

Clemson University scientists, in collaboration with USDA-ARS researchers, are initiating studies that will maximize production of native warm-season grasses under the climatic, soil, and socio-economic conditions encountered by farmers and other landowners in South Carolina.

Location

Field research studies have been initiated at Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center (PDREC) in Florence, South Carolina. The 2,300-acre PDREC is located in the heart of the Pee Dee region, an area rich in agriculture and many other natural resources. Many soils in this region are sandy and prone to drought, making them marginal for growing crops like corn. However, they may be suitable for the production of the more drought tolerant native warm-season grasses. Special research focus is being given to develop switchgrass farms among the rural communities along the I-95 corridor.

In addition to field research studies, basic research is also being conducted on switchgrass by collaborators in laboratories located on the Clemson University main campus, the USDA-ARS Coastal Plains Research Center, and the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Research Focus

Development of Profitable Production Systems
Genetic Improvement Using Biotechnology and Traditional Breeding
Improve Efficiency of Conversion of Ethanol or Use for Combustion
Develop IPM practices and evaluate necessary pest control
Evaluate Environmental Impacts of Production Through Field Measurement and Modeling Efforts
Conduct Socio-Impact Analysis and Determine Profitability of Production
Conduct Farmer, Industry Leader, Academic and Public Education Programs Related to Switchgrass Production   and Ethanol Use
Provide Information to Improve Government Policy and Programs Related to Switchgrass Production

Collaborators

This project will involve an inter-disciplinary team of researchers and educators. Among those currently involved are:

John Andrae, Assistant Professor, Forage Crop Specialist
Marion Barnes, County Extension Agent
Bob Bett, County Extension Agent
Keri Cantrell, Ag Engineer, USDA-ARS
Carlos Carpio, Ag Economist
Todd Davis, Extension Agriculture Economist
Alex Feltus, Genetisist
Bruce Fortnum, Plant Pathologist
Jim Frederick, Crop Production and Physiologist
Tom French, Manager, Strategic Programs, Savannah River National Laboratory
Annel Green, Professor, Biological Sciences
David Gunter, Weed Scientist
Michael Heitkamp, Research Manager, Environmental Biotechnology, Savannah River National Laboratory
Richard H. Hilderman, Professor and Chair, Biochemistry and Life Science Studies
Drew Lanham, Associate Professor
Hong Luo, Molecular Biologist
Shelley Miller, Environmental Scientist
Jeff Novak, Soil Scientist, USDA-ARS
Francis Reay-Jones, Entomologist
Lynette Savereno, Coordinator, USDA-NRCS, Pee Dee RC&D
T.J. Savereno, Wildlife Biologist
Webb Smathers Jr., Wildlife Economist
Charles Turick, Savannah River National Laboratory
Brenda Vander Mey, Rural Sociologist
Terry Walker, Bioprocess Engineer


For more information about switchgrass, contact Dr. Jim Frederick.