A new study from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) shows that a byproduct of ethanol fermentation from corn stover can increase the structural stability and organic matter content of soil, particularly highly eroded soil.
The study suggests corn stover, the parts of the corn plant remaining in the field after harvest, that is used in the ethanol production process has three times the concentration of nitrogen as the original cornstalks. It consists of stalk parts too tough for digesting by alcohol fermentation microbes and has a compost-like consistency, according to Jane Johnson, a soil scientist with the ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minn.
Applying this ethanol byproduct to the land may partially offset the risks associated with harvesting, ARS scientists say. The stover byproduct can help counteract soil erosion, as well as soil deprived of carbon and nutrients. Preliminary results have shown no adverse effect to corn or soybeans grown in the presence of the byproduct.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) helped fund this study as part of a complete DOE life-cycle analysis of ethanol production from corn stover that includes comparing possible economical and environmentally sound uses for the byproduct. The work of Johnson and colleagues suggests one use may be as a soil treatment for eroded areas.
A paper on this study has been published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. To read the studyâ€™s abstract, click here.