Bioenergy research is translated into practical know-how by extension educators, farmers and Master Gardeners.
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Table of Contents
- The CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team
- Citizen Science and Farm Research Provide Hands-On Learning
- Programs for Youth
- Resources for Ongoing Learning
- Contributors to This Report
- CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team Publications
The CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team
On the streets, in the fields, and online, the CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team collaborators deliver programming and educational materials critical to the CenUSA Bioenergy vision.
The mission of the Extension team was to help farmers and others learn about the environmental impacts of perennial grass production and utilization of biochar, best practices for growing and supplying perennial grasses for the biofuels/bioproducts industry, potential markets that may develop for the grasses; and to help farmers evaluate how grasses might work in their operations once a market develops.
Accomplishing this mission was a team effort led by Project Co-Directors Jill Euken and Sorrel Brown from Iowa State University, along with 33 collaborators from seven universities and volunteer Extension Master Gardeners from Minnesota and Iowa.
Citizen Science and Farm Research Provide Hands-On Learning
Under the direction of professional scientists and their institutions, citizen science projects amplified the impact of the CenUSA program. Farm demonstration sites and garden research plots provided hands-on learning opportunities for participants and produced valuable research data for CenUSA to share with the public.
Extension and outreach professionals and farmers in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska established nine on-farm demonstration sites. Farmers established plots, collected data, and shared information with others at field days. Extension agents provided guidance, organized the field days, tours of plots, and informational meetings, which eventually reached more than 5,000 agricultural producers, consultants, and agricultural industry leaders.
University of Minnesota Extension and outreach professionals and Extension Master Gardener volunteers established five citizen science research garden sites studying biochar (a charcoal like co-product of pyrolyzing biomass for energy production) as a soil amendment. More than 7,000 people visited the sites and/or participated in educational programs, and exhibits.
Programs for Youth
Two groups of Extension collaborators focused specifically on youth outreach programming. Purdue University Extension and outreach professionals created interactive electronic lessons and established demonstration plots of perennial grasses for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career events, reaching more than 900 high school students. [Plot or Career event Picture]
Faculty and student interns at Iowa State University combined forces to create C6 BioFarm, a robust suite of STEM materials, for middle-school-aged youth. C6BioFarm includes an iPad app, supporting curricula and an iBook. These materials are available online to teachers and other youth mentors, such as 4-H and FFA leaders. C6BioFarm underwent two pilot tests, reaching 350 and 330 youth and adults respectively. The C6 program has been used by more than 2000 people.
“The main purpose of C6BioFarm is to help connect the idea that fuels can be made from renewables and to help increase options for agriculture,” said Jay Staker, director of Extension science, engineering and technology at Iowa State University and a member of CenUSA’s Extension and Outreach Team. “The sub purpose is to help people better understand agriculture production in STEM careers and the economy.” [C6 Picture]
Education efforts by Extension and outreach were not without challenges. Most notable was the lack of an established market for perennial grasses – due to lack of commercial facilities to process the grasses and depressed fossil fuel prices. Without biomass markets, it was not possible (in fact, it was unethical) for team members to encourage farmers to transition acres to production of perennial grasses.
The Extension team overcame this challenge by focusing on helping people understand that markets could develop. The easily accessible educational materials generated by the project team will help farmers, industry leaders and Extension and outreach professionals move rapidly to produce perennial grasses once a market for them opens up.
Resources for Ongoing Learning
Working with CenUSA scientific researchers, the Extension team developed an in-depth portfolio of online educational materials, providing science-based information in easily understandable terms. Publications include decision support tools, fact sheets, research summaries, and videos. These educational materials will help producers, industry leaders, Extension and outreach professionals proceed quickly to produce perennial grasses when a market for them becomes more widely available.
These materials are available at eXtension.org, the CenUSA web site, and CenUSA’s video sites (https://vimeo.com/cenusabioenergy and https://www.youtube.com/user/CenusaBioenergy).
Contributors to This Report
Jill Euken, Deputy Director, Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University
Amy Kohmetscher, Distance Education Specialist, Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Susan J. Harlow, Freelance Journalist
CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team Publications
CenUSA Project Resources – information on the opportunities and challenges in developing a sustainable system for the thermochemical production of biofuels from perennial grasses grown on land marginal for row crop production.
Fact Sheets, Guides and Articles
- Biochar: Prospects of Commercialization – David Laird and Pam Porter
- CenUSA Biochar Research Flyer (PDF) – David Laird and Jill Euken
- CenUSA Feedstock Conversion, Refining and Co-Products – Ryan Smith
- CenUSA Extension and Outreach: Perennial Grass Bioenergy Research and Knowhow for Producers, Students and Stakeholders – Jill Euken
- CenUSA Feedstock Development – Mike Casler
- CenUSA Feedstock Logistics: Innovative Systems for Harvest, Transportation, and Storage of Perennial Grass Biomass – Kevin Shinners
- Control Weeds in Switchgrass (Panicum Virgatum L.) Grown for Biomass – Rob Mitchell
- Economics of Switchgrass for Biofuel – Richard Perrin
- Estimated Cost of Establishment and Production of “Liberty” Switchgrass: Perennial Grass Decision Support Tool – Mainul Hoque, Georgeanne Artz, Chad Hart
- Fast Pyrolysis Efficiently Turns Biomass into Renewable Fuels – Robert Brown
- Guidelines to Growing Perennial Grasses for Biofuel and Bioproducts (PDF) – Rob Mitchell
- Index of Recent Biochar Publications
- Logistical Challenges to Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) as a Bioenergy Crop – Amy Kohmetscher, Stuart Birrell
- Master Gardeners’ Safety Precautions for Handling, Applying and Storing Biochar – Charles Schwab and Mark Hanna
- Plant Breeders Create New and Better Switchgrass Varieties for Biofuels– Michael Casler
- Storing Perennial Grasses Grown for Biofuel – Kevin Shinners
- Successfully Harvest Switchgrass Grown for Biofuel – Kevin Shinners, Pam Porter (related PDF handout)
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) for Biofuel Production – Rob Mitchell (related PDF handout)
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L) Stand Establishment: Key Factors for Success – Rob Mitchell (related PDF handout)
- Test Plots Show How Perennial Grasses Can Be Grown for Biofuels– Rob Mitchell, Jeff Volenec – (related PDF handout)
- Utilization of Mature Switchgrass as Roughage in Feedlot Diets (PDF) – Chris Clark and Dan Loy
Research Summaries & Case Studies
- Switchgrass Hay Could Be a Useful Roughage in Beef Diets While Offering a Market Alternative to Biofuels – Chris Clark
- Biochar Can Improve the Sustainability of Stover Removal for Bioenergy – David Laird
- Biofuel Quality Improved by Delaying Harvest of Perennial Grass – Emily Heaton
- Competition For Land Use: Why Would a Rational Producer Grow Switchgrass for Biofuel? – Keri Jacobs
- Making Business Decisions with Precision Data Can Encourage Perennial Grass Production – Susan Harlow
- Management Practices Impact Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Harvest of Corn Stover for Biofuels – Virginia Jin
- Minnesota Watershed Nitrogen Reduction Planning Tool – Bill Lazarus
- Near-Infrared (NIR) Analysis Provides Efficient Evaluation of Biomass Samples – Bruce Dien, USDA-ARS
- Research Finds Strong Genetic Diversity in Switchgrass Gene Pools – Michael Casler
- Case Study: Renmatix Processes Biomass into Sugars for Industrial Use
- Safety and Health Risks of Producing Biomass on the Farm – Douglas Schaufler
- 2014 Extension Master Gardener’s CenUSA Biochar Demonstration Gardens: Is biochar a good soil amendment for home gardens? – Lynn Hagen
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
- Can I use my regular haying equipment to harvest switchgrass grown for biofuel?
- Can the use of conservation tillage help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cropland soils where residues are used for biofuel?
- Can you feed switchgrass to livestock until a biofuel market develops for it?
- How can I get a switchgrass crop to dry faster in the field once it’s been cut for biomass?
- How can I reduce dry matter losses to a biomass crop during storage?
- How do I grow switchgrass to provide biomass to be used in the production of biofuels?
- How high should I cut switchgrass? I am growing it as a bioenergy crop.
- Is there a market for switchgrass for biofuel and how do I get started?
- Should I begin establishing switchgrass in case they put a cellulosic ethanol plant near by?
- Should I fertilize switchgrass when I plant it?
- What effects do corn stover removal rates have on greenhouse gas emissions from cropland?
- When should I plant switchgrass?
- Why is it important to be able to grow a consistent and uniform supply of a biomass feedstock?
- Will switchgrass grow well in my region?
- Will weeds be a problem after my switchgrass stand is established?
- Aphid Resistance in Switchgrass CenUSA Bioenergy – Kyle Koch
- Biochar 101: An Intro to Biochar – Kurt Spokas
- Biochar and Beyond with ARTi – Matt Kieffer, Juan Proano and Bernardo del Campo
- Competition for Land Use: Why would the rational producer grow switchgrass for biofuel? – Keri Jacobs
- Diversifying Cellulosic Feedstocks – DK Lee
- No-Till Drill Calibration Training Video (+Captions) – Rob Mitchell
- Overview of Switchgrass Diseases – Stephen Wegulo
- Perennial Herbaceous Biomass Biomass Production and Harvest in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains – Susan Rupp
- Role of Biochar in Achieving a Carbon Negative Economy – David Laird
- Safety Issues in On-Farm Biomass Production – Douglas Schaufler
- Switchgrass and Bioenergy Crop Logistics – Stuart Birrell
- Switchgrass and Perennial Grasses, Biomass and Biofuels, Part 1 (Captions) – Ken Vogel
- Switchgrass and Perennial Grasses, Biomass and Biofuels, Part 2 – Ken Vogel
- Switchgrass Cost of Production – Marty Schmer
- Switchgrass Decision Tool – Keri Jacobs and Chad Hart
- Switchgrass Economics in the North Central Region of the USA (Captioned) – Richard Perrin
- Switchgrass Establishment, Weed Control, and Seed Quality – Rob Mitchell
- Switchgrass Production Industry Perspectives – David Stock
- Thermochemical Conversion of Biomass to Drop-In Biofuels – Robert Brown
- Thermochemical Option: Biomass to Fuel – Robert Brown
Instructional Video on the CenUSA Vimeo Site and on the CenUSA YouTube Site
- Biochar: An Introduction to an Industry – David Laird
- CenUSA Bioenergy-Opportunities in Biofuel
- The CenUSA Legacy – Pam Porter
- 2012 CenUSA Bioenergy Overview
- 2012 CenUSA Bioenergy Farmer Focus – Kevin Ross
- CenUSA Bioenergy 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Internship – Raj Raman
- Commercialization Update: Opportunities for Perennial Biofeedstocks – Rob Mitchell
- Enhancing the Mississippi Watershed with Perennial Bioenegy Crops – Pam Porter
- Entomology Research: Examining Insect Populations and Exploring Natural Plant Resistance (Captions) – Tiffany Heng-Moss
- Harvesting Native Grass for Biofuel Production (+Captions) – Rob Mitchell
- Hazards of Biomass Production on Marginal Land – Douglas Schaufler
- How to Measure Stand Establishment Using a Grid – John Guretzky
- Intro to No-Till Drill Calibration for Switchgrass (+Captions) – Rob Mitchell
- Optimizing Harvest of Perennial Grasses for Biofuel – Kevin Shinners
- Plant Breeding to Improve Yield and Sustainability of Perennial Grasses – Michael Casler
- Plant Pathogen Risk Analysis for Bioenergy Switchgrass Grown in the Central USA – Gary Yuen
- Switchgrass Planting Practices for Stand Establishment – Rob Mitchell
- University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Biochar Research Summary – Julie Weisenhorn
CenUSA Bioenergy is a coordinated research and education effort investigating the creation of a regional system in the Central US for producing advanced transportation fuels from perennial grasses on land that is either unsuitable or marginal for row crop production.* In addition to producing advanced biofuels, the proposed system will improve the sustainability of existing cropping systems by reducing agricultural runoff of nutrients in soil and increasing carbon sequestration.
CenUSA is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.