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Ethanol production potential from conservation buffers in the inland Pacific Northwest
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Meeting the goals set by the Energy Independence and Security Act requires evaluation of all potential feedstock sources including arid and semi-arid portions of the western United States (U.S.). The objective of this study was to assess the lignocellulosic feedstock potential in stream buffers of the inland Pacific Northwest. A 3-yr (2010–2012) experiment was conducted at two sites within each of the three precipitation zones (low, mid, and high). At each site, barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), alfalfa (Medicago sativa L., cultivar Ladak), tall wheatgrass (Agropyron elongatum Podp. cultivar Alkar) (TWG), and a mix of alfalfa and tall wheatgrass (MIX) were planted in a randomized complete block experimental design. Productivity followed precipitation; in the high and mid precipitation zones, the MIX and TWG treatments showed potential production of 3,079 ± 262 l ha−1 and 3,062 ± 235 l ha−1. Productivity in the low zone was inadequate or unreliable as a source of feedstocks. A geographic information system was then used to identify the area available for stream buffers with soil resources that matched the experimental results within each precipitation zone. In 3.7 × 106 ha of dryland cropland, 44 656 ha (1.5%) available within the mid and high precipitation zones is capable of producing 147 million liters of ethanol. This potential contribution is 0.3% of the lignocellulosic ethanol production expected by the year 2022. Though not a substantial contribution, the added benefit of producing energy for on-farm consumption might provide an additional incentive for landowners and managers to install conservation buffers.
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