The lowly alfalfa crop could play a role in the future of cellulosic ethanol.
Alfalfa is the nation’s most popular legume and actually our third most valuable crop, but it is often taken for granted and somewhat under valued. However, the many benefits of the crop could make it a potential frontrunner in the cellulosic ethanol race, especially if new varieties can be developed with reduced lignin content, which is the focus of a Pioneer Hi-Bred biotech research project.
Pioneer Director of Alfalfa Research Dave Miller says they believe cellulosic ethanol will need multiple feedstocks and alfalfa is a good fit for a number of reasons. “It’s great for crop rotation, its environmental benefits in terms of lack of soil erosion because it’s deep rooted and a perennial are well known, and it fixes nitrogen.”
In addition, Miller says preliminary work shows alfalfa is competitive with other feedstocks for its ability to convert to cellulosic ethanol and that a corn/alfalfa rotation creates a very favorable carbon footprint for ethanol production.
Producing varieties with less lignin would be helpful in making alfalfa even more competitive as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. In addition, the reduced lignin alfalfa also has benefits with its more traditional use as livestock feed. “When animals are fed lower lignin forage, they perform better,” said Miller. “Both systems are digestions, one is an enzyme-acid digestion to go into a fermentation vat, the other is a digestion to make milk or meat.”
Listen to or download an interview with Dave Miller here: