Perennial grasses are touted as sustainable feedstocks for energy production. Such benefits, however, may be offset if excessive nitrogen (N) fertilization leads to economic and environmental issues. Furthermore, as yields respond to changes in climate, nutrient requirements will change, and thus guidance on minimal N inputs is necessary to ensure sustainable bioenergy production. Here, a pairwise meta-analysis was conducted to investigate the effects of N fertilization (amount and duration) and climate on the above-ground biomass yields of miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). Both regression models and meta-analyses showed that switchgrass was more responsive to N than miscanthus, although both showed significant and positive N effects. Meta-analysis further showed that the positive growth response of miscanthus to N application increased with N addition rates of 60–300 kg N ha−1 year−1, but the magnitude of the response decreased with the number of years of fertilization (duration). N effects on switchgrass biomass increased and peaked at rates of 120–160 kg N ha−1 year−1 and 5–6 years of N inputs, but diminished for rates >300 kg N ha−1 year−1 and >7 years. Meta-analysis further revealed that the influences of N on switchgrass increased with both mean annual temperature and precipitation. Miscanthus yields were less responsive to climate than switchgrass yields. This meta-analysis helps fill a gap in estimation of biofeedstock yields based on N fertilization and could help better estimate minimum N requirements and soil management strategies for miscanthus and switchgrass cultivation across climatic conditions, thereby improving the efficiency and sustainability of bioenergy cropping systems.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.