Oklahoma has secured 1,100 acres of land for the world's largest stand of switchgrass devoted to
cellulosic ethanol production. Planting will take place within the next 45 days.
Switchgrass is a perennial grass that is naturally drought resistant and grows on marginal lands.The Oklahoma Bioenergy Center (OBC), demonstration fields will provide academia and industry a unique "living laboratory" to understand the production and long-term impact of bioenergy crops, as well as experiment with new production techniques and critical harvest, collection and transport methods.
The critical piece of this effort is 1,000 acres of switchgrass which will be planted near Guymon, Okla. in the state's panhandle. This switchgrass field will be the first of its size anywhere in the world focused on biomass production. Additional acreage of sorghum and switchgrass will be planted near Chickasha and Maysville in central Oklahoma.
A cellulosic biorefinery currently being constructed by Abengoa Boenergy in Hugoton, Kan., will be less than 35 miles from Guymon, and the switchgrass fields in the panhandle will provide material to this biorefinery. The Abengoa Bioenergy facility is expected to be operational in 2010.
This will be a major step in the production of bioenergy from switchgrass. While it may seem to be a rather trivial matter, until it is demonstrated that the switchgrass can be successfully harvested at an economic cost, the use of switchgrass for this purpose is in question. Plantings for other uses of switchgrass are unlikely to provide this information as they are generally not harvested and the yield is not of such concern. Some small demonstrations have been made, but they are not necessarily applicable to larger stands.
The harvesting and any other questions about growing the switchgrass could delay the use of switchgrass, 1) by eliminating the need for a commercial grower to go through this step 2) to show financial backers of switchgrass bioenergy facilities that this step is not a problem 3) to shorten the time before switchgrass is accepted as a viable feedstock for bioenergy and 4) To determine the optimum planting density to obtain the best yield per acre as numbers for this vary greatly.