Agro Times
Recent News |  Archives |  Tags |  Newsletter |  Message Board/Forum |  About |  Links |  Subscribe to AgroTimes.com RSS Feed Subscribe


More Articles
New material steals oxygen from the airNew material steals oxygen from the air

'Programmable' antibiotic harnesses an enzyme to attack drug-resistant microbes'Programmable' antibiotic harnesses an enzyme to attack drug-resistant microbes

Origin of moon's 'ocean of storms' revealedOrigin of moon's 'ocean of storms' revealed

More physical activity improved school performanceMore physical activity improved school performance

Shape up quickly -- applies to fish, too!Shape up quickly -- applies to fish, too!

Engineering new vehicle powertrainsEngineering new vehicle powertrains

Stunning finds from ancient Greek shipwreckStunning finds from ancient Greek shipwreck

All directions are not created equal for nanoscale heat sourcesAll directions are not created equal for nanoscale heat sources

Pressing the accelerator on quantum roboticsPressing the accelerator on quantum robotics

Around the world in 400,000 years: The journey of the red foxAround the world in 400,000 years: The journey of the red fox

Active aging is much more than exerciseActive aging is much more than exercise

Making oxygen before lifeMaking oxygen before life

Protecting our processorsProtecting our processors

Gut bacteria, artificial sweeteners and glucose intoleranceGut bacteria, artificial sweeteners and glucose intolerance

Are the world's religions ready for ET?Are the world's religions ready for ET?

Researchers demonstrate direct fluid flow influences neuron growthResearchers demonstrate direct fluid flow influences neuron growth

Study: New device can slow, reverse heart failureStudy: New device can slow, reverse heart failure

Recreating the stripe patterns found in animals by engineering synthetic gene networksRecreating the stripe patterns found in animals by engineering synthetic gene networks

Communication without detoursCommunication without detours

Chicxulub didn't do it all by itselfChicxulub didn't do it all by itself

First pictures of BRCA2 protein show how it works to repair DNAFirst pictures of BRCA2 protein show how it works to repair DNA

Laying the groundwork for data-driven scienceLaying the groundwork for data-driven science

Hold on, tiger momHold on, tiger mom

Nature's designs inspire research into new light-based technologiesNature's designs inspire research into new light-based technologies

Missing piece found to help solve concussion puzzleMissing piece found to help solve concussion puzzle

Biologists delay the aging process by 'remote control'Biologists delay the aging process by 'remote control'

Geography matters: Model predicts how local 'shocks' influence U.S. economyGeography matters: Model predicts how local 'shocks' influence U.S. economy

Identified for the first time what kind of explosive has been used after the detonationIdentified for the first time what kind of explosive has been used after the detonation

Copied from nature: Detecting software errors via genetic algorithmsCopied from nature: Detecting software errors via genetic algorithms

Overfertilizing corn undermines ethanol (3/10/2011)

Tags:
corn, biofuels, ethanol

Rice University scientists and their colleagues have found that when growing corn crops for ethanol, more means less.

A new paper in today's online edition of the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science and Technology shows how farmers can save money on fertilizer while they improve their production of feedstock for ethanol and alleviate damage to the environment.

The research has implications for an industry that has grown dramatically in recent years to satisfy America's need for energy while trying to cut the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.

The team led by postdoctoral researcher Morgan Gallagher as part of her dissertation at Rice discovered that corn grain, one source of ethanol, and the stalks and leaves, the source of cellulosic ethanol, respond differently to nitrogen fertilization.

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.

The findings are an important next step in building a sustainable biofuel economy. Plants benefit from some nitrogen from fertilizer to produce the biomolecules they need to grow and function, said Carrie Masiello, an assistant professor of Earth science at Rice and Gallagher's adviser. But for many crops, a little is enough.

"We already know too much fertilizer is bad for the environment. Now we've shown that it's bad for biofuel crop quality too," Masiello said.

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.

The study, conducted at and in collaboration with the National Science Foundation's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University (MSU), showed that although feeding the plant more fertilizer increases the grain's cellulose content, grain yield quickly hits a plateau. "The kilograms of grain you get per hectare goes up pretty fast and peaks," Masiello said. At the same time, the researchers found only a modest increase in plant and stem cellulose, the basic component used to produce cellulosic ethanol.

"The implicit assumption has always been that the response of plant cellulose to fertilizer is going to be the same as the grain response, but we've showed this assumption may not always hold, at least for corn," Gallagher said.

Nitrogen fertilization encourages production of lignin within the plant, and without lignin, stalks won't stand. Lignin production comes at the expense of useful cellulose production. The researchers found that lignin yields from plant residue increased at nearly twice the rate as cellulose in response to nitrogen fertilization, and they said this implies "that residue feedstock quality declines as more nitrogen fertilizer is applied."

Lignin breaks down slowly via bacterial enzymes, and it is expensive to remove by chemical or mechanical processes that create a bottleneck in cellulosic ethanol production. "The ideal cellulosic ethanol crop has no lignin -- except you can't have a plant without it, because it would fall over. Plants need some lignin to maintain structure," said co-author Bill Hockaday, a former Rice postdoctoral researcher and now an assistant professor at Baylor University. "What we want is a low lignin-to-cellulose ratio."

Reducing fertilizer to the bare-bones minimum serves that purpose. "Morgan showed that if you look at kilograms of cellulose per hectare, yields don't increase at the same rate for the grain and the leaves and stems. There's really only a small amount of fertilizer needed if you're cropping strictly for cellulose," Masiello said.

Overfertilization also increases the decomposability of corn residue plowed back into the fields. This implies that soil carbon storage becomes less efficient -- another minus for the environment because storing additional carbon in soil can reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and help crops access soil water.

Issues associated with the runoff of nitrogen from fertilizer into streams and leaching into groundwater are common knowledge, Masiello said. She noted the well-established link between nitrogen fertilizer use in the Mississippi Valley and a "dead zone" -- defined as a lack of life-supporting oxygen -- in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrate runoff and leaching into drinking water supplies has also been linked to a number of health problems, the researchers wrote.

Finally, Gallagher noted that improving the yield of feedstock for cellulosic ethanol leaves more corn for food. "There's a billion people who are malnourished, so it's ethically questionable to use corn grain for fuel rather than food," she said.

The researchers hope their methods can be transferred to other crops grown for ethanol. Gallagher, who recently earned her doctorate at Rice and is starting a joint postdoctoral stint between Masiello's lab and the NSF agricultural research station at Michigan State, plans to quantify the effects of nitrogen fertilization on switchgrass, which is growing in importance as a biofuel feedstock.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the Rice University

Post Comments:

Search
New Articles
'Grapes of Wrath': Stomping out grape disease one vineyard at a time

Building a bridge from basic botany to applied agricultureBuilding a bridge from basic botany to applied agriculture

Balancing birds and biofuels: Grasslands support more species than cornfields

Wild tomato species focus of antioxidant studyWild tomato species focus of antioxidant study

Clove oil tested for weed control in organic Vidalia sweet onion

Automated imaging system looks underground to help improve cropsAutomated imaging system looks underground to help improve crops

Researchers pump up oil accumulation in plant leavesResearchers pump up oil accumulation in plant leaves

Research paves way for new generation of fungicidesResearch paves way for new generation of fungicides

Natural gene selection can produce orange corn rich in provitamin A for Africa, USNatural gene selection can produce orange corn rich in provitamin A for Africa, US

New approach to boosting biofuel production

Thermotolerant yeast can provide more climate-smart ethanolThermotolerant yeast can provide more climate-smart ethanol

Seed science might save the world

Industrial hemp topic of lecture

Creepy crawlers play key role in structure of grasslands

Conference brings international organic agriculture leaders together



Archives
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009


Science Friends
Astronomy News
Sports Tech
Biology News
Biomimicry Science
Cognitive Research
Chemistry News
Tissue Engineering
Cancer Research
Cybernetics Research
Electonics Research
Fossil News
Forensics Report
Genetic Archaeology
Genetics News
Geology News
Microbiology Research
Nanotech News
Physics News
Parenting News


  Archives |  Submit News |  Advertise With Us |  Contact Us |  Links
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. All contents © 2000 - 2015 Web Doodle, LLC. All rights reserved.