Woodbury, Peter. B  (Cornell University, Crop and Soil Sciences Department, Cornell
University, Ithaca, NY, 4853; Phone: 607- 255-1448; Email: pbw1@cornell.edu)


Evaluating Strategies for Biomass Fuel Production in New York State


P. B. Woodbury *, J. H. Cherney, J. Wightman, J. M. Duxbury, W.J. Cox, C. L. Mohler, S. D. DeGloria


New York State has set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 5% in 2010 and 10% in 2020. We evaluated how biomass fuel production could help to achieve these goals. The suitability of lands throughout the state for increased biomass production was analyzed for corn (Zea Mays L.), soybean (Glycine Max (L.) Merrill), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinaceaL.), unimproved grasslands, and existing mixed-species forests. New York State has approximately 19.7 million acres of forestland (59% of total); 6.2 million acres of crop and hay land (19%); 2.1 million acres of pasture and old-field land (6%); 1.5 million acres of developed land (4%); 1.2 million acres of wetlands (4%), and 2.2 million acres of water (7%). Of current pasture, old field, and hay land, we estimate that 1.5 million acres may be currently underutilized and potentially available for herbaceous biomass crops without reducing current row crop, corn silage, or hay silage production that is important for New York’s dairy industry.

For corn, soybean, switchgrass, reed canarygrass and unimproved grasslands, we predicted the suitable area and production potential for each soil type in the state. These predictions were linked within a geographical information system to spatially referenced soils data (STATSGO). Potential yields and areas under good management on underutilized land were estimated to be: corn 110 bu/ac (on 1.3 million acres) , soybean 37 bu/ac (1 million acres), reed canarygrass 4.1 t/ac (1.5 million acres), switchgrass 3.5 t/ac (1.2 million acres), and unimproved grasslands 1.9 t/ac (1.2 million acres). These crops would use the same land base, and so are mutually exclusive strategies.

Based on inventory data from the USDA Forest Service, there are approximately 15.4 million acres of forestland that have adequate growth rates for commercial timber production and that are not reserved for non-timber uses such as parks. Of this timberland, 10 million acres are in mixed hardwood species and are privately owned, not including forest industry land. We assume that half of this land (5 million acres) is potentially available for additional biomass production. Predicted potential additional yields based on current growth rates of existing forests, excluding current harvests and mortality, were estimated to average 0.5 tons/acre/year. Predicted yields using residues from timber stand improvement cuts are estimated to be 0.8 tons/acre/year. For maximal greenhouse gas mitigation potential, the best agricultural strategy is producing reed canary grass for heat and the best forest strategy is timber stand improvement cuts. Together, these strategies could reduce total New York State emissions by 3.7%. These options provide 30-fold greater greenhouse gas mitigation potential than corn for ethanol and 24-fold greater potential than soybean for bio-diesel. For forests, it should be noted that greater wood yields are possible with plantations, but we have not yet evaluated plantation strategies. Further analysis is required to determine the degree to which these biomass production options are feasible under economic and social constraints. We have examined biophysical and some economic constraints to increased production, but have not examined infrastructure constraints such as road access, and ability of existing power plants to use biomass.  Furthermore, not all land owners are willing or able to increase biomass production, and if they do so, not all will achieve optimal production. Therefore our estimates of potential production could be too optimistic, but they do suggest that further development of biomass strategies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is warranted in New York State and other similar regions.