Pee Dee REC Working on Commercial Biomass Production

Several biomass crops are being researched at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center near Florence, South Carolina. Jim Fredrick, Professor at Clemson University is working on biomass production and management:

“My longest project has been working on switch grass, about seven years, looking at different management strategies, soil type and how that would impact yields and how the switch grass would respond to management. Bottom line, trying to get the most yield with the lowest input costs and most favorable benefits to the environment. It’s been a long term study, switch grass being a perennial plant, we are trying to get an idea about how well it performs not only in the short term but also the long term.”

Different types of sorghum are also in Fredrick’s study at the Pee Dee:

“We are looking at all different types of sorghum, primarily bio mass sorghum, closely related to the forge type, but puts on a lot of growth during the summer. We have been finding somewhere around 10-12 tons per acre so it’s a high yielding crop. It’s a different type of plant than switch grass, sorghum is an annual plant so it has to be planted every year. We are looking to see how that fits into the over all farm cropping system: double cropping, full season production, rotation, different varieties, production practices, nitrogen rate, harvesting, primarily the management of the crop then we will move into things further down the supply chain – like storage and pre processing.”

Giant Miscanthus is also in the study:

“We worked with miscanthus last year, the company we worked with is in bad times so we are not pursuing that project any more. We had worked on it some, very similar to switch grass, very high yielding, but it costs more on the front end to get it planted and established. We are looking at some sweet sorghum from a dual purpose standpoint. There you have the juice to press out of the stem and then use the stems for cellulosic ethanol.”

But, Arundo Donax has not been included in the mix, according to Fredrick:

“I have stayed away from that one, just because it’s a little controversial in terms of invasiveness. I have looked at it and have some growing wild here, but no research on that one.”

Clemson University recently announced a collaboration with ArborGen working with fast-growing trees, and Fredrick is working with them at the Pee Dee as well:

“We are working on purposely growing the trees that have been bred for fast growth and development and a lot of bio mass.”

And Fredrick sees promise for commercial biomass production in the southeast:

“The whole fuel industry in the future is going to be diversified and that is one reason we are looking at a lot of different options. The corn residues in the mid west, they are realizing the source of bio fuel is like our food and feed crops, it will be very diversified in the state which is good because it allows the farmer a lot of different options and spreads out the risk. We are looking at sorghums that have both a grain yield and a bio mass yield so you can get two incomes off of the same crop.”

Clemson University Extension professor Jim Fredrick.

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