Life cycle assessment of corn grain and corn stover in the United States

Seungdo Kim, Bruce E. Dale, Robin Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • 103 Citations

Abstract

Background, aim, and scope: The goal of this study is to estimate the county-level environmental performance for continuous corn cultivation of corn grain and corn stover grown under the current tillage practices for various corn-growing locations in the US Corn Belt. The environmental performance of corn grain varies with its farming location because of climate, soil properties, cropping management, etc. Corn stover, all of the above ground parts of the corn plant except the grain, would be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Materials and methods: Two cropping systems are under investigation: corn produced for grain only without collecting corn stover (referred to as CRN) and corn produced for grain and stover harvest (referred to as CSR). The functional unit in this study is defined as dry biomass, and the reference flow is 1 kg of dry biomass. The system boundary includes processes from cradle to farm gate. The default allocation procedure between corn grain and stover in the CSR system is the system expansion approach. County-level soil organic carbon dynamics, nitrate losses due to leaching, and nitrogen oxide and nitrous oxide emissions are simulated by the DAYCENT model. Life cycle environmental impact categories considered in this study are total fossil energy use, climate change (referred to as greenhouse gas emissions), acidification, and eutrophication. Sensitivities on farming practices and allocation are included. Results: Simulations from the DAYCENT model predict that removing corn stover from soil could decrease nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching). DAYCENT also predicts a reduction in the annual accumulation rates of soil organic carbon (SOC) with corn stover removal. Corn stover has a better environmental performance than corn grain according to all life cycle environmental impacts considered. This is due to lower consumption of agrochemicals and fuel used in the field operations and lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. Discussion: The primary source of total fossil energy associated with biomass production is nitrogen fertilizer, accounting for over 30% of the total fossil energy. Nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching) are the primary contributors to all other life cycle environmental impacts considered in this study. Conclusions: The environmental performance of corn grain and corn stover varies with the farming location due to crop management, soil properties, and climate conditions. Several general trends were identified from this study. Corn stover has a lower impact than corn grain in terms of total fossil energy, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and eutrophication. Harvesting corn stover reduces nitrogen-related emissions from the soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , NO3 -). The accumulation rate of soil organic carbon is reduced when corn stover is removed, and in some cases, the soil organic carbon level decreases. Harvesting only the cob portion of the stover would reduce the negative impact of stover removal on soil organic carbon sequestration rate while still bringing the benefit of lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. No-tillage practices offer higher accumulation rates of soil organic carbon, lower fuel consumption, and lower nitrogen emissions from the soil than the current or conventional tillage practices. Planting winter cover crops could be a way to reduce nitrogen losses from soil and to increase soil organic carbon levels. Recommendations and perspectives: County-level modeling is more accurate in estimating the local environmental burdens associated with biomass production than national- or regional-level modeling. When possible, site-specific experimental information on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics should be obtained to reflect the system more accurately. The allocation approach between corn grain and stover significantly affects the environmental performance of each. The preferred allocation method is the system expansion approach where incremental fuel usage, additional nutrients in the subsequent growing season, and changes in soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics due to removing corn stover are assigned to only the collected corn stover.

LanguageEnglish (US)
Pages160-174
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Profile

life cycle
maize
soil
organic carbon
nitrogen
accumulation rate
fossil
environmental impact
leaching
biomass
soil nitrogen
soil carbon
tillage
acidification
eutrophication
cropping practice
soil property
greenhouse gas
energy
cover crop

Keywords

  • Biorefinery
  • Cob
  • Corn
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Soil organic carbon
  • Stover
  • Tillage
  • Winter cover crop

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)

Cite this

Life cycle assessment of corn grain and corn stover in the United States. / Kim, Seungdo; Dale, Bruce E.; Jenkins, Robin.

In: International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Vol. 14, No. 2, 03.2009, p. 160-174.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "Life cycle assessment of corn grain and corn stover in the United States",
abstract = "Background, aim, and scope: The goal of this study is to estimate the county-level environmental performance for continuous corn cultivation of corn grain and corn stover grown under the current tillage practices for various corn-growing locations in the US Corn Belt. The environmental performance of corn grain varies with its farming location because of climate, soil properties, cropping management, etc. Corn stover, all of the above ground parts of the corn plant except the grain, would be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Materials and methods: Two cropping systems are under investigation: corn produced for grain only without collecting corn stover (referred to as CRN) and corn produced for grain and stover harvest (referred to as CSR). The functional unit in this study is defined as dry biomass, and the reference flow is 1 kg of dry biomass. The system boundary includes processes from cradle to farm gate. The default allocation procedure between corn grain and stover in the CSR system is the system expansion approach. County-level soil organic carbon dynamics, nitrate losses due to leaching, and nitrogen oxide and nitrous oxide emissions are simulated by the DAYCENT model. Life cycle environmental impact categories considered in this study are total fossil energy use, climate change (referred to as greenhouse gas emissions), acidification, and eutrophication. Sensitivities on farming practices and allocation are included. Results: Simulations from the DAYCENT model predict that removing corn stover from soil could decrease nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching). DAYCENT also predicts a reduction in the annual accumulation rates of soil organic carbon (SOC) with corn stover removal. Corn stover has a better environmental performance than corn grain according to all life cycle environmental impacts considered. This is due to lower consumption of agrochemicals and fuel used in the field operations and lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. Discussion: The primary source of total fossil energy associated with biomass production is nitrogen fertilizer, accounting for over 30{\%} of the total fossil energy. Nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching) are the primary contributors to all other life cycle environmental impacts considered in this study. Conclusions: The environmental performance of corn grain and corn stover varies with the farming location due to crop management, soil properties, and climate conditions. Several general trends were identified from this study. Corn stover has a lower impact than corn grain in terms of total fossil energy, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and eutrophication. Harvesting corn stover reduces nitrogen-related emissions from the soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , NO3 -). The accumulation rate of soil organic carbon is reduced when corn stover is removed, and in some cases, the soil organic carbon level decreases. Harvesting only the cob portion of the stover would reduce the negative impact of stover removal on soil organic carbon sequestration rate while still bringing the benefit of lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. No-tillage practices offer higher accumulation rates of soil organic carbon, lower fuel consumption, and lower nitrogen emissions from the soil than the current or conventional tillage practices. Planting winter cover crops could be a way to reduce nitrogen losses from soil and to increase soil organic carbon levels. Recommendations and perspectives: County-level modeling is more accurate in estimating the local environmental burdens associated with biomass production than national- or regional-level modeling. When possible, site-specific experimental information on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics should be obtained to reflect the system more accurately. The allocation approach between corn grain and stover significantly affects the environmental performance of each. The preferred allocation method is the system expansion approach where incremental fuel usage, additional nutrients in the subsequent growing season, and changes in soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics due to removing corn stover are assigned to only the collected corn stover.",
keywords = "Biorefinery, Cob, Corn, Life cycle assessment, Soil organic carbon, Stover, Tillage, Winter cover crop",
author = "Seungdo Kim and Dale, {Bruce E.} and Robin Jenkins",
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T1 - Life cycle assessment of corn grain and corn stover in the United States

AU - Kim,Seungdo

AU - Dale,Bruce E.

AU - Jenkins,Robin

PY - 2009/3

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N2 - Background, aim, and scope: The goal of this study is to estimate the county-level environmental performance for continuous corn cultivation of corn grain and corn stover grown under the current tillage practices for various corn-growing locations in the US Corn Belt. The environmental performance of corn grain varies with its farming location because of climate, soil properties, cropping management, etc. Corn stover, all of the above ground parts of the corn plant except the grain, would be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Materials and methods: Two cropping systems are under investigation: corn produced for grain only without collecting corn stover (referred to as CRN) and corn produced for grain and stover harvest (referred to as CSR). The functional unit in this study is defined as dry biomass, and the reference flow is 1 kg of dry biomass. The system boundary includes processes from cradle to farm gate. The default allocation procedure between corn grain and stover in the CSR system is the system expansion approach. County-level soil organic carbon dynamics, nitrate losses due to leaching, and nitrogen oxide and nitrous oxide emissions are simulated by the DAYCENT model. Life cycle environmental impact categories considered in this study are total fossil energy use, climate change (referred to as greenhouse gas emissions), acidification, and eutrophication. Sensitivities on farming practices and allocation are included. Results: Simulations from the DAYCENT model predict that removing corn stover from soil could decrease nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching). DAYCENT also predicts a reduction in the annual accumulation rates of soil organic carbon (SOC) with corn stover removal. Corn stover has a better environmental performance than corn grain according to all life cycle environmental impacts considered. This is due to lower consumption of agrochemicals and fuel used in the field operations and lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. Discussion: The primary source of total fossil energy associated with biomass production is nitrogen fertilizer, accounting for over 30% of the total fossil energy. Nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching) are the primary contributors to all other life cycle environmental impacts considered in this study. Conclusions: The environmental performance of corn grain and corn stover varies with the farming location due to crop management, soil properties, and climate conditions. Several general trends were identified from this study. Corn stover has a lower impact than corn grain in terms of total fossil energy, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and eutrophication. Harvesting corn stover reduces nitrogen-related emissions from the soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , NO3 -). The accumulation rate of soil organic carbon is reduced when corn stover is removed, and in some cases, the soil organic carbon level decreases. Harvesting only the cob portion of the stover would reduce the negative impact of stover removal on soil organic carbon sequestration rate while still bringing the benefit of lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. No-tillage practices offer higher accumulation rates of soil organic carbon, lower fuel consumption, and lower nitrogen emissions from the soil than the current or conventional tillage practices. Planting winter cover crops could be a way to reduce nitrogen losses from soil and to increase soil organic carbon levels. Recommendations and perspectives: County-level modeling is more accurate in estimating the local environmental burdens associated with biomass production than national- or regional-level modeling. When possible, site-specific experimental information on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics should be obtained to reflect the system more accurately. The allocation approach between corn grain and stover significantly affects the environmental performance of each. The preferred allocation method is the system expansion approach where incremental fuel usage, additional nutrients in the subsequent growing season, and changes in soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics due to removing corn stover are assigned to only the collected corn stover.

AB - Background, aim, and scope: The goal of this study is to estimate the county-level environmental performance for continuous corn cultivation of corn grain and corn stover grown under the current tillage practices for various corn-growing locations in the US Corn Belt. The environmental performance of corn grain varies with its farming location because of climate, soil properties, cropping management, etc. Corn stover, all of the above ground parts of the corn plant except the grain, would be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Materials and methods: Two cropping systems are under investigation: corn produced for grain only without collecting corn stover (referred to as CRN) and corn produced for grain and stover harvest (referred to as CSR). The functional unit in this study is defined as dry biomass, and the reference flow is 1 kg of dry biomass. The system boundary includes processes from cradle to farm gate. The default allocation procedure between corn grain and stover in the CSR system is the system expansion approach. County-level soil organic carbon dynamics, nitrate losses due to leaching, and nitrogen oxide and nitrous oxide emissions are simulated by the DAYCENT model. Life cycle environmental impact categories considered in this study are total fossil energy use, climate change (referred to as greenhouse gas emissions), acidification, and eutrophication. Sensitivities on farming practices and allocation are included. Results: Simulations from the DAYCENT model predict that removing corn stover from soil could decrease nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching). DAYCENT also predicts a reduction in the annual accumulation rates of soil organic carbon (SOC) with corn stover removal. Corn stover has a better environmental performance than corn grain according to all life cycle environmental impacts considered. This is due to lower consumption of agrochemicals and fuel used in the field operations and lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. Discussion: The primary source of total fossil energy associated with biomass production is nitrogen fertilizer, accounting for over 30% of the total fossil energy. Nitrogen-related emissions from soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , and NO3 - leaching) are the primary contributors to all other life cycle environmental impacts considered in this study. Conclusions: The environmental performance of corn grain and corn stover varies with the farming location due to crop management, soil properties, and climate conditions. Several general trends were identified from this study. Corn stover has a lower impact than corn grain in terms of total fossil energy, greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, and eutrophication. Harvesting corn stover reduces nitrogen-related emissions from the soil (i.e., N2O, NO x , NO3 -). The accumulation rate of soil organic carbon is reduced when corn stover is removed, and in some cases, the soil organic carbon level decreases. Harvesting only the cob portion of the stover would reduce the negative impact of stover removal on soil organic carbon sequestration rate while still bringing the benefit of lower nitrogen-related emissions from the soil. No-tillage practices offer higher accumulation rates of soil organic carbon, lower fuel consumption, and lower nitrogen emissions from the soil than the current or conventional tillage practices. Planting winter cover crops could be a way to reduce nitrogen losses from soil and to increase soil organic carbon levels. Recommendations and perspectives: County-level modeling is more accurate in estimating the local environmental burdens associated with biomass production than national- or regional-level modeling. When possible, site-specific experimental information on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics should be obtained to reflect the system more accurately. The allocation approach between corn grain and stover significantly affects the environmental performance of each. The preferred allocation method is the system expansion approach where incremental fuel usage, additional nutrients in the subsequent growing season, and changes in soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics due to removing corn stover are assigned to only the collected corn stover.

KW - Biorefinery

KW - Cob

KW - Corn

KW - Life cycle assessment

KW - Soil organic carbon

KW - Stover

KW - Tillage

KW - Winter cover crop

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