Build upon previous research to continue to increase the value of agricultural by-products by demonstrating how biomass feedstocks can be used to produce renewable energy and recycled through land application as biochar. Specifically, this research is building upon the results of the initial phase by reusing the by-products and rejected grains from ethanol production to produce biochar, bio-oil and additional bio-based energy. In this proposal, the researchers evaluated biochars both in field plots and greenhouse studies to observe their potential to maintain and improve soil quality, soil fertility, water quality through reduced nitrate leaching, and air quality through potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (particularly for nitrous oxide) from biochar-amended soils as well as alterations in the water and carbon use profiles of corn grown in biochar amended soils. The need for this second step is to confirm the initial observations from the laboratory, while examining in more detail the chemical properties of the bio-oil. From the initial phase of this project, the researchers have successfully demonstrated the conversion of corn stover/grain into biochar and bio-oil, however, further work is still needed to demonstrate biochar’s role for increasing the sustainability of corn production.
The potential long-term outcome of this research is the development and promotion of on-farm energy production using a combination of corn stover and distillers grain as a feedstock to improve the sustainability of corn production with biochar amendments.
The overall benefits to the conversion of by-products into biochar can be summarized by the following:
- Solves agricultural waste problems – reduces landfill & waste hauling
- Potentially increases sustainability and productivity of corn production
- Sequesters carbon (through the conversion to biochar)
- Decreases greenhouse gas emissions (potentially through reduced nitrous oxide production in soil following char incorporation)
Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council
University of Minnesota