The Carbon Footprint of Bioenergy Sorghum Production in Central Texas: Production Implications on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Carbon Cycling, and Life Cycle Analysis
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Enhanced interest in biofuel production has renewed interest in bioenergy crop production within the United States. Agriculture’s role in biofuel production is critical because it has the potential to supply renewable energy while minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, agronomic management practices influence direct and indirect GHG emissions, and both can have a significant impact on biofuel production efficiency. Our overall objective was to determine the carbon (C) footprint of bioenergy sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L.) production in central Texas. Specifically, we determined the impacts of crop rotation, nitrogen (N) fertilization, and residue return on direct and indirect GHG emissions, theoretical biofuel yield, C pools, and life cycle GHG emissions from bioenergy sorghum production in 2010 and 2011. An experiment established in 2008 near College Station, TX to quantify the impacts of crop management practices on bioenergy sorghum yield and soil properties was utilized, and included two crop rotations (sorghum-sorghum or corn-sorghum), two fertilization levels (0 or 280 kg N ha^(-1) annually), and two residue return rates (0 or 50% biomass residue returned) to assess management impacts on sorghum production, C cycling, and life cycle GHGs. Corn production was poor under moderate drought conditions, while bioenergy sorghum produced relatively large yields under both moderate and severe drought conditions. Nitrogen addition increased crop yields, and rotated sorghum had higher yield than monoculture sorghum. Fluxes of CO_(2) and N_(2)O were higher than those reported in literature and highest soil fluxes were frequently observed following precipitation events during the growing season. Residue return increased cumulative CO_(2) emissions and N fertilization increased N_(2)O emissions. Residue return also increased soil microbial biomass-C, an important indicator of soil quality. Continuous sorghum significantly increased soil organic C (SOC) concentrations near the soil surface and at two depths below 30 cm. Analysis of change in SOC across time to estimate net CO_(2) emissions to the atmosphere revealed bioenergy sorghum production accrued high amounts of SOC annually. Most treatments accrued more than 4 Mg C ha^(-1) yr^(-1) from 2008 to 2012, which indicated great potential for C sequestration and offsetting GHG emissions. Life cycle GHG emissions (as g CO_(2)-eq MJ^(-1)) were all negative due to high SOC increases each year and indicated all bioenergy sorghum production treatments sequestered atmospheric CO_(2) per unit of theoretical energy provided. Despite its relatively low production efficiency, rotated sorghum with N addition and residue return was selected as the ideal bioenergy sorghum production scenario due to a number of sustainability factors. Bioenergy sorghum may offer great benefit as a high-yielding biofuel feedstock with minimal impacts to net GHG emissions.
Storlien, Joseph Orgean (2013). The Carbon Footprint of Bioenergy Sorghum Production in Central Texas: Production Implications on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Carbon Cycling, and Life Cycle Analysis. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from