Historically, people have been ignoring crops and crop byproducts from the standpoint of using them as a source of energy. However, the interest in converting crops into bioenergy has been growing in recent years as the economics of traditional energy have become increasingly more complex.
For energy production, the crops that are the most efficient from a bioenergy standpoint are the best. Energy crops can create six times more energy than it takes to grow these crops, which is what makes them a really attractive source of bioenergy.
Examples of energy crops include certain trees, such as maples, sycamores, poplars and willows. Many of these trees are easy to grow back after harvesting a crop, which makes the process sustainable from the biological standpoint, and does not require a lot of labour or expenses.
It takes relatively short time, from between three and seven years, for the trees to grow big enough to be harvested and then re-harvested. This suggests that in the future, many countries will have special farms dedicated to these trees and their conversion into bioenergy.
One of the biggest benefits of energy crops is that they are friendly to the environment. For example, switchgrass reduces erosion of the soil, and creates a natural habitat for wildlife. The grass grows deep roots that enrich the soil with nutrients. Current research pays special attention to energy crops that can not only produce energy, but also be beneficial to the environment during the growth and production process.
One of the important benefits of energy crops and biomass, in general, is that while they do create carbon dioxide during the combustion process, the gas does not add to the carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere because trees and crops that grow the next batch of energy fuel consume this gas.