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Large quantities of biofuel production are expected from bioenergy crops at a national scale to meet US biofuel goals. It is important to study biomass production of bioenergy crops and the impacts of these crops on water quantity and quality to identify environment-friendly and productive biofeedstock systems. SWAT2012 with a new tile drainage routine and improved perennial grass and tree growth simulation was used to model long-term annual biomass yields, streamflow, tile flow, sediment load, and nutrient losses under various bioenergy scenarios in an extensively agricultural watershed in the Midwestern US. Simulated results from bioenergy crop scenarios were compared with those from the baseline. The results showed that simulated annual crop yields were similar to observed county level values for corn and soybeans, and were reasonable for Miscanthus, switchgrass and hybrid poplar. Removal of 38% of corn stover (3.74Mg/ha/yr) with Miscanthus production on highly erodible areas and marginal land (17.49Mg/ha/yr) provided the highest biofeedstock production (279,000Mg/yr). Streamflow, tile flow, erosion and nutrient losses were reduced under bioenergy crop scenarios of bioenergy crops on highly erodible areas and marginal land. Corn stover removal did not result in significant water quality changes. The increase in sediment and nutrient losses under corn stover removal could be offset with the combination of other bioenergy crops. Potential areas for bioenergy crop production when meeting the criteria above were small (10.88km(2)), thus the ability to produce biomass and improve water quality was not substantial. The study showed that corn stover removal with bioenergy crops both on highly erodible areas and marginal land could provide more biofuel production relative to the baseline, and was beneficial to water quality at the watershed scale, providing guidance for further research on evaluation of bioenergy crop scenarios in a typical extensively tile-drained watershed in the Midwestern U.S.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: The Science of the total environment
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