Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

If Corn Is Biofuels King, Tropical Maize May Be Emperor

Date:
October 19, 2007
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
When crop scientist Fred Below began growing tropical maize, the form of corn grown in the tropics, he was looking for novel genes for the utilization of nitrogen fertilizer and was hoping to discover information that could be useful to American corn producers. Now, however, it appears that maize itself may prove to be the ultimate US biofuels crop.

U of I doctoral student Mike Vincent, left, holds a stalk of regular hybrid corn and compares it to a stalk of tropical maize held by U of I Professor of Plant Physiology Fred Below. Tropical maize can easily grow to 14 or 15 feet tall, compared to the 7-1/2 feet that are average for conventional Midwest corn.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

When University of Illinois crop scientist Fred Below began growing tropical maize, the form of corn grown in the tropics, he was looking for novel genes for the utilization of nitrogen fertilizer and was hoping to discover information that could be useful to American corn producers.

Related Articles


Now, however, it appears that maize itself may prove to be the ultimate U.S. biofuels crop.

Early research results show that tropical maize, when grown in the Midwest, requires few crop inputs such as nitrogen fertilizer, chiefly because it does not produce any ears. It also is easier for farmers to integrate into their current operations than some other dedicated energy crops because it can be easily rotated with corn or soybeans, and can be planted, cultivated and harvested with the same equipment U.S. farmers already have. Finally, tropical maize stalks are believed to require less processing than corn grain, corn stover, switchgrass, Miscanthus giganteus and the scores of other plants now being studied for biofuel production.

What it does produce, straight from the field with no processing, is 25 percent or more sugar -- mostly sucrose, fructose and glucose.

"Corn is a short-day plant, so when we grow tropical maize here in the Midwest the long summer days delay flowering, which causes the plant to grow very tall and produce few or no ears," says Below. Without ears, these plants concentrate sugars in their stalks, he adds. Those sugars could have a dramatic affect on Midwestern production of ethanol and other biofuels.

According to Below, "Midwestern-grown tropical maize easily grows 14 or 15 feet tall compared to the 7-1/2 feet height that is average for conventional hybrid corn. It is all in these tall stalks," Below explains. "In our early trials, we are finding that these plants build up to a level of 25 percent or higher of sugar in their stalks.

This differs from conventional corn and other crops being grown for biofuels in that the starch found in corn grain and the cellulose in switchgrass, corn stover and other biofuel crops must be treated with enzymes to convert them into sugars that can be then fermented into alcohols such as ethanol.

Storing simple sugars also is more cost-effective for the plant, because it takes a lot of energy to make the complex starches, proteins, and oils present in corn grain. This energy savings per plant could result in more total energy per acre with topical maize, since it produces no grain.

"In terms of biofuel production, tropical maize could be considered the 'Sugarcane of the Midwest',"Below said. "The tropical maize we're growing here at the University of Illinois is very lush, very tall, and very full of sugar."

He added that his early trials also show that tropical maize requires much less nitrogen fertilizer than conventional corn, and that the stalks actually accumulate more sugar when less nitrogen is available. Nitrogen fertilizer is one of major costs of growing corn.

He explained that sugarcane used in Brazil to make ethanol is desirable for the same reason: it produces lots of sugar without a high requirement for nitrogen fertilizer, and this sugar can be fermented to alcohol without the middle steps required by high-starch and cellulosic crops. But sugarcane canνt be grown in the Midwest.

The tall stalks of tropical maize are so full of sugar that producers growing it for biofuel production will be able to supply a raw material at least one step closer to being turned into fuel than are ears of corn.

"And growing tropical maize doesn't break the farmers' rotation. You can grow tropical maize for one year and then go back to conventional corn or soybeans in subsequent years," Below said. "Miscanthus, on the other hand, is thought to need a three-year growth cycle between initial planting and harvest and then your land is in Miscanthus. To return to planting corn or soybean necessitates removing the Miscanthus rhizomes.

Below is studying topical maize along with doctoral candidate Mike Vincent and postdoctoral research associate Matias Ruffo, and in conjunction with U of I Associate Professor Stephen Moose. This latest discovery of high sugar yields from tropical maize became apparent through cooperative work between Below and Moose to characterize genetic variation in response to nitrogen fertilizers.

Currently supported by the National Science Foundation, these studies are a key element to developing maize hybrids with improved nitrogen use efficiency. Both Below and Moose are members of Illinois Maize Breeding and Genetics Laboratory, which has a long history of conducting research that identifies new uses for the maize crop.

Moose now directs one of the longest-running plant genetics experiments in the world, in which more than a century of selective breeding has been applied to alter carbon and nitrogen accumulation in the maize plant. Continued collaboration between Below and Moose will investigate whether materials from these long term selection experiments will further enhance sugar yields from tropical maize.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "If Corn Is Biofuels King, Tropical Maize May Be Emperor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016101454.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2007, October 19). If Corn Is Biofuels King, Tropical Maize May Be Emperor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016101454.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "If Corn Is Biofuels King, Tropical Maize May Be Emperor." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016101454.htm (accessed October 26, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) — Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) — One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins