Biofuels are an important component in the development of alternative energy supplies, which is needed to achieve national energy independence and security in the United States. The most common biofuel product today in the United States is corn-based ethanol; however, its development is limited because of concerns about global food shortages, livestock and food price increases, and water demand increases for irrigation and ethanol production. Corn-based ethanol also potentially contributes to soil erosion, and pesticides and fertilizers affect water quality. Studies indicate that future potential production of cellulosic ethanol is likely to be much greater than grain- or starch-based ethanol. As a result, economics and policy incentives could, in the near future, encourage expansion of cellulosic biofuels production from grasses, forest woody biomass, and agricultural and municipal wastes. If production expands, cultivation of cellulosic feedstock crops, such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and miscanthus (Miscanthus species), is expected to increase dramatically. The main objective of this study is to identify grasslands in the Great Plains that are potentially suitable for cellulosic feedstock (such as switchgrass) production. Producing ethanol from noncropland holdings (such as grassland) will minimize the effects of biofuel developments on global food supplies. Our pilot study area is the Greater Platte River Basin, which includes a broad range of plant productivity from semiarid grasslands in the west to the fertile corn belt in the east. The Greater Platte River Basin was the subject of related U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) integrated research projects.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Mapping grasslands suitable for cellulosic biofuels in the Greater Platte River Basin, United States
U.S. Geological Survey
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center