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Emily Heaton
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Crop Sciences
(217) 244-6317; ecaveny@illinois.edu

Energy Farming: Lessons of the Past to Power the Future

Stephen P. Long, German Bollero, Leslie Cooperband, Mark David, Tony Grift, Andrew Hamblin, Madhu Khanna, Greg McIsaac, Anne Silvis, Lei Tian, Tom Voigt, Michelle Wander, Jack Widholm, and Yuanhui Zhang

Before the 1920s, farmers grew energy along with food crops. It was called feed – energy for horses and mules that pulled their plows, planters and reapers. Then fossil fueled tractors came along. Ninety million acres were freed from growing hay.

Tomorrow’s farms will produce more energy than our great grandparents’ farms did, but farmers won’t use it all themselves. They will sell biomass grown on contract to local bioenergy companies or to power plants. The energy contained in the biomass will be processed to create clean renewable fuel to generate steam, or be co-fired or otherwise blended with fossil fuels to produce electricity. Grasses are particularly suited for processing into bioenergy. Farmers will grow them using techniques and dedicated species that build levels of organic matter in the soil.

Illinois farmers are now better positioned to capitalize on the emerging green energy market thanks to research funded by the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR). New research on the promising energy crop, Miscanthus, has found that Illinois could generate 50% of the state’s electricity from Miscanthus grown on only 10% of Illinois’ agricultural acres. Miscanthus is a very clean burning fuel, and while it can be burned alone for electricity generation, it may also be mixed with Illinois coal, thereby diluting the undesirable emissions of coal burning power stations and adding value to Illinois resources. Miscanthus has been used in Europe for years. Now researchers from 6 different ACES departments are collaborating with Environmentally Correct Concepts, Inc. and Dynegy Midwest Generation to answer key questions in Miscanthus production.

Research outputs include:

· Trials across Illinois and best management practices
· Propagation stock
· Planting and harvesting technology
· Document and quantify environmental benefits
· State germplasm collection
· Breeding program
· Genetic transformation system
· Economic analyses and scenarios
· Social acceptability
· Utilization technology
· Guides for Growers, Land-owners and Policy Makers

Department of Crop Sciences
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois Extension
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