To date, cellulosic ethanol production has not been commercialized in the United States. However, government mandates aimed at increasing second-generation biofuel production could spur exploratory development in the cellulosic ethanol industry. We conducted an in-depth analysis of the fuelshed surrounding a starch-based ethanol plant near York, Nebraska that has the potential for cellulosic ethanol production. To assess the feasibility of supplying adequate biomass for year-round cellulosic ethanol production from residual maize (Zea mays) stover and bioenergy switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) within a 40-km road network service area of the existing ethanol plant, we identified ∼14,000 ha of marginally productive cropland within the service area suitable for conversion from annual rowcrops to switchgrass and ∼132,000 ha of maize-enrolled cropland from which maize stover could be collected. Annual maize stover and switchgrass biomass supplies within the 40-km service area could range between 429,000 and 752,000 metric tons (mT). Approximately 140–250 million liters (l) of cellulosic ethanol could be produced, rivaling the current 208 million l annual starch-based ethanol production capacity of the plant. We conclude that sufficient quantities of biomass could be produced from maize stover and switchgrass near the plant to support year-round cellulosic ethanol production at current feedstock yields, sustainable removal rates and bioconversion efficiencies. Modifying existing starch-based ethanol plants in intensive agricultural fuelsheds could increase ethanol output, return marginally productive cropland to perennial vegetation, and remove maize stover from productive cropland to meet feedstock demand.
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The feasibility of producing adequate feedstock for year–round cellulosic ethanol production in an intensive agricultural fuelshed