SCAN technology used to address biomass collection and impacts

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SCAN technology is helping to address new questions relative to large scale biomass collection efforts and the impact on soil and water resources. On July 16th, 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Announce the FY2004 Joint Solicitation Awards for $25 million in research funding to 22 biomass projects. Over 400 pre-applications were received in response to this solicitation. Following the pre-application review, 93 applicants were invited to submit full applications, representing a collective request of more than 108 million federal dollars. The proposal selections comprise a diverse portfolio of research that attempt to cover each of the targeted technical topic areas.

One project selected was submitted by the Imperial Nebraska Young Farmers and Ranchers Titled: Biomass Opportunity for Imperial, Nebraska Region: What is the Value? This $2 million award with over $1 million in matching funds is addressing the value of sustainable removal of the “excess” feedstock to the farmers and potential processors across the supply chain using innovative methods for corn grain and stover collection, wet storage of stover, and rail transport from collection sites to supply a large biorefinery for the production of fuels and chemicals. Potential processors have made great strides in improving the conversion process, but there remains a large amount of uncertainty in the feedstock supply, its cost, reliability and environmental impact of removal. Benefits for changing existing farming practices must be demonstrated to the farmer and the potential farmer with stable pricing and a suitable life cycle analysis.

A preliminary study estimated counties within a 50-mile radius of Imperial, NE can comply with USDA erosion control guidelines for surface cover requirements and also supply 3.6 M dt/yr stover with the adoption of no-till farming practices. In addition, rail service improves logistics, lowers transport costs and economically expands the area supply to 6 M dt/yr at $35/dt delivered to the biorefinery. The net margin to the farmer will be $17/dt and could potentially net $35/ac or more, using one pass harvest technology, wet storage and rail transport from collection centers. This feedstock is equivalent to 500 M gallons ethanol annually.

So why is SCAN part of this project? One very large question in this water restricted area is the soil moisture and evaporation when biomass is removed. This station is collecting data on the non irrigated cropland and on the irrigated cropland with and with out biomass removal. The real data available from SCAN will help in providing answers to the uncertainty in the feedstock supply and the environmental impact of stover removal. By making the investment in SCAN, these important questions for the greater Imperial area can be answered along with providing additional data for the entire SCAN network. The real time data will help farmers in making management decisions such as: is biomass removal ok for my operation.

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