Scientists at Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence are looking to poplar trees, switchgrass and biomass sorghum as bioenergy sources that can be grown in South Carolina.
Speaking at the Pee Dee 2015 Farm Field Day Sept. 10, Jim Frederick, professor of crop physiology at the Pee Dee Center who directs the bioenergy research there, said the goal is to produce feed stocks that can be grown for renewable energy in South Carolina.
“We are looking at the genetic improvement of a lot of these bioenergy crops, measuring the environmental sustainability and developing best management practices for these new crops,” Frederick said.
An important aim of the research, Frederick pointed out, is to study the environmental impact of changing from traditional row crops to energy crops. Researchers are looking at the impact on soil, water, air, wildlife habitat and biodiversity.
“For bioenergy crops, we have to look at the composition,” Frederick noted. “What is its Btu value or energy value if we are going to burn it? What’s its conversion efficiency to a liquid fuel? We have to make bioenergy crops competitive to fossil fuels and more competitive to traditional crops so farmers and landowners will want to grow them.”
Frederick said Clemson is looking at poplar trees as one source of renewable energy. He noted that poplar trees are harvested every five to six years so they should be viewed as more of a crop than a stand of pine trees that are cut every 20 years.
Biomass sorghum is an annual crop that has great potential as a renewable fuel crop in South Carolina, Frederick said.
“Another crop we are looking at is switch grass,” he said. “It is a perennial native grass that has some benefits. It improves the soil in term of carbon and doesn’t hardly any inputs. It is very drought tolerant and has good wildlife habitat benefits. But it’s not as high yielding in terms of biomass so there is give in take all these type of situations.”