4.6 Biofuel Buffers


Perennial herbaceous and woody plants can be grown for producing biofuels. Biofuel crops can be used to generate power via co-firing and gasification and can be refined to yield liquid fuels like ethanol, bio-oil, and other products like biodegradable plastics and specialty chemicals.

Biofuel crops grown in buffers can augment larger block plantings of biofuels. Research suggests that it may be possible to produce enough biofuels in buffers to offset the energy required to produce crops in between the buffers.

Hybrid poplar, willows, and switchgrass are the most researched biofuel crops although other species may be suitable (see table). Guides for growing biofuel crops are available.

Key Factors for Locating Biofuel Buffers

  • Highly erodible lands are often suitable.
  • Other marginal lands may be suitable including flood-prone and nutrient-poor (dependent on plant species).
  • Locate to achieve other goals (e.g., crop protection, water quality enhancement).
  • Site should be close to a biofuel refinery to minimize transportation.

Key Design Considerations

  • Perennials provide more benefits than annuals.
  • Mixed plantings can provide benefits over monocultures (may need to separate woody and herbaceous biofuel crops).
  • Consider planting and harvesting equipment in the layout.
  • Select biofuel crops that fit site conditions and that are complementary to natural plant communities in the area.
  • Leave some biofuel crop unharvested in a given year to provide other benefits.
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