Horticulture · Sustainability

Energy crops

We read and hear quite often about energy crops or the need to increase the cultivation area of those plants. What is in fact an energy crop?

It is a plant cultivated to obtain biomass for the energetic purposes, i.a. to produce biofuel in chemical processes or to generate electricity or heat by combustion. What distinguishes them from others agricultural cultivation is a fact,  that they are produced only for energy production purposes. Wastes from plants, which are cultivated for food and industrial purposes, can be also used for energy recovery, but such plants are not considered as energy crops.

So, it is a definition. Why there is an interest in such crops anyway? Mainly, because they are so called renewable resources in the contrast to oil, coal or gas. So far, sounds OK.

Energy plants should be characterized by:

  • rapid growth of green mass (so called biomass)
  • high combustion value
  • high resistance to diseases and pests,
  • low soil requirements.

 

At first, let’s look, what are the most popular species cultivated as energy crops all over the world. There are two main groups of those plants:

  • forestry ones  (so in practice just trees)
  • agricultural ones (herbaceous crops).

Some of the most popular energy crops currently used around the world are:

Short Rotation Woody Crops

  • willows (mainly Salix viminalis L. but also S. amygdalina L. or S. dasyclados WIMM.)
  • poplars (Populus alba L., Populus nigra L., Populus tremula L., Populus x canescens)
  • eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.)
  • Empress tree (Paulownia sp.)

Herbaceous Crops

  • Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus, Miscantus sacchariflorus),
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.),
  • Giant Reed (Arundo donax L.),
  • Sweet Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench),
  • Virigina mallow (Sida hermafrodita)
  • Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus L.)
  • knotweeds (Polygonum sachalinense Smidt., Polygonum euspidetum Sieb.)
  • Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumach)

 

 

References:

  1. Budzyński W, Bielski St. 2004, Energy resources of agricultural origin part II. Biomass as a solid fuel (review), Acta Sci. Pol., Agricultura 3(2) 2004, 15-26
  2. Hinchee, M., Rottmann, W., Mullinax, L. et al. Short-rotation woody crops for bioenergy and biofuels applications, In Vitro Cell.Dev.Biol.-Plant (2009) 45: 619. doi:10.1007/s11627-009-9235-5
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