Maize ethanol feedstock production and net energy value as affected by climate variability and crop management practices
Ethanol from various plant resources, especially maize, is increasingly being used as a substitute for fossil fuels. The production potential of ethanol from maize varies with weather and climatic conditions and crop management practices. The merits and prospects of ethanol production have been evaluated based on its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, economic viability and national energy security. The net energy value (NEV), i.e. the output energy after all non-renewable energy inputs have been accounted for, is a measure of energy gain. At the same time, the NEV can be an indicator for the long-term sustainability of bio-ethanol production, regardless of other conditions e.g. climate change scenarios, global trade restrictions, or local variability in natural resources such as water availability. Crop management practices directly affect the NEV of ethanol. Moreover, both crop management practices and climate variability affect the NEV through the grain yield. The objective of this study was to assess the impact of crop management practices and climate variability on grain yield of maize for ethanol production and ethanol NEV for conditions that represent the southeastern USA. Maize grain yield was simulated with the dynamic crop growth model CSM-CERES-Maize and ethanol NEV was calculated using the simulated yield levels and crop management practices. The simulations were conducted for conditions representing Mitchell County, Georgia, USA, using weather data from 1939 to 2006 and local soil profile information. The impact of irrigation, nitrogen fertilizer, planting date and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases were determined for the maize cultivars DeKalb DKC 61-72 (RR2), Pioneer 31D58 and Pioneer 31G98. Crop management practices and ENSO phase had a significant impact on ethanol feedstock production and NEV. The NEV of ethanol produced from irrigated maize was more than two times higher and varied less than the NEV of ethanol from rainfed maize. NEV of ethanol produced from maize grown during La Niña years was significantly higher than maize grown during El Niño years, both under rainfed and irrigated conditions. This study showed the importance of crop management practices and climate variability on ethanol feedstock productivity and long-term energy sustainability as assessed by the NEV. We discuss methods of implementing the findings of this study in practical farming e.g. through market mechanisms and governmental initiatives.
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