Our mission

Global increases in energy demand over supply have spurred a tremendous demand for biofuels produced from crops. Capture the sun’s energy in crop plants, take those crops and convert them into usable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel or combustible dry biomass. Decrease our dependence on foreign oil, keep our energy dollars at home, and stimulate the farm economy. And reduce global warming by capturing carbon dioxide. Washington citizens are yearning for home-grown biofuels and the Washington state legislature and state agencies have committed investments in our research and extension programs to help make that happen.

The concept is simple and enticing, but the impacts are controversial and the execution of such a major shift in regional agricultural and energy systems is an extreme challenge. While the Midwestern U.S. simply used their current crops of corn and soybeans as biofuel feedstocks, the Western U.S. is faced with a more daunting task. We are starting at square one by evaluating and adapting alternative crop feedstocks, with the goal of integrating them into existing cropping systems, producing them economically and environmentally sustainable without outcompeting our goal of food production, and in the end ensuring that we develop systems that result in a positive energy balance!

Answers to these questions are to come as we embark on this mission with cautious optimism, and with full knowledge that any real progress will require a sustained global commitment to the vision.

–Bill Pan, project co-director

 

Enter our collaborative workplan.

Researchers from Washington State University and USDA, and collaborators across Washington state initiated a study in August 2007 to evaluate alternative crops that may have the potential to meet some of the increasing demand for biofuel production. Crops and cropping systems are based primarily on location and rainfall; this study intends to answer questions about the agronomic, economic and environmental viability of oilseed and biomass crops in four of the agroclimatic zones of Washington outlined below.

Fall and spring-seeded oilseed crops and perennial grasses are included in both field and laboratory studies (see table below) ranging from variety trials to root growth analysis to genomic traits. Preliminary research reports are available for each of the regions using the links to the left.

 

Crop

Region 1

Eastern WA
high rainfall

Region 2

Eastern WA
low-intermediate rainfall

Region 3

Central WA
irrigated

Region 4

Western WA

Winter Canola

Winter canola

variety trials

soil pathogen study

planting methods

winter survival

herbicide performance

variety trials

soil pathogen study

planting date/rate

winter survival

herbicide performance

variety trials

crop nutrient/water use

planting date/rate

herbicide performance

variety trials

organic production

herbicide performance

Spring Canola

Spring canola

nutrient management

herbicide performance

nutrient management

herbicide performance

nutrient management

herbicide performance

variety trials

herbicide performance

Winter Camelina

Camelina at Ralston, Fall 2007

variety trials

soil pathogen study

winter survival

planting date

variety trials

cropping systems

winter survival

variety trials
Spring Camelina

Closeup of camelina seedling

variety trials

soil pathogen study

planting date

herbicide performance

variety trials

herbicide performance

herbicide performance variety trials

herbicide performance

Safflower

Safflower flower

variety trials variety trials water use efficiency

cropping systems

nutrient/water requirements

variety trials
Sunflower

Sunflower

variety trials variety trials variety trials
Flax

Flowering flax

variety trials variety trials variety trials
Yellow Mustard

Mustard seed

soil pathogen study

herbicide performance

herbicide performance herbicide performance herbicide performance
Switchgrass

Switchgrass

variety trials

winter survival

seeding date

Soybean*

Soybean

variety trials

planting date

Arundo donax*

Arundo donax

water, fertilizer use feral control
Wheatgrass*

Tall Wheatgrass

variety trials
Wheatstraw*

Wheat stubble

genomics

*Affiliated project