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The grass may be greener on old mine sites as WVU researchers test resiliency of bioenergy crops
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: June 15, 2022 11:02AM

West Virginia University [] researchers are working
to better understand how climate change may make an impact on a
bioenergy crop that flourishes on reclaimed mining lands.

Previously living materials, including perennial grasses like Miscanthus
x giganteus, produce bioenergy. Ember Morrissey
associate professor of environmental microbiology
[] in
the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
[], is examining the symbiotic relationship
between microbes and this type of tall grass to prepare for climate
change and decreasing fossil fuel usage.

The research group includes Jeff Skousen
[], professor
of soil science [], Louis McDonald
professor of environmental soil chemistry and soil fertility
[], and Jenni Kane, a doctoral student
in plant and soil sciences [].

Skousen, an expert in soil reclamation, helped Morrissey establish
miscanthus stands on marginal soil for research over the next five years
funded with a more than $817,000 grant from the National Institute of
Food and Agriculture.

The goal is to determine if fertilization will weaken the relationship
between the plant and its microbes and then determine the best way to
manage the plant in unpredictable climates.

??If there's something like a drought, then suddenly water is very
limited,? Morrissey said. ??Because the plant hasn't formed those close
ties with the microbes that allow it to have enhanced water uptake, it
might not perform as well.?

Morrissey, Skousen, McDonald and Kane have miscanthus growing at two
research centers in Morgantown. They will also use Skousen??s long-term
sites of marginal land in Appalachia where miscanthus has been growing
for up to 15 years.

They??re working to determine the ability of miscanthus to regenerate the
damaged soils of Appalachia, which earlier studies
[] demonstrated
is possible. Production on marginal land can help improve soil health
and isolate soil carbon, restoring the land and mitigating climate change.

Having grown up in the southern coalfields of West Virginia, Kane saw
the impact damaged mine lands have on communities. Many people in West
Virginia and throughout Appalachia own land unsuitable for crop
cultivation because of past mining.

??Anyone could grow miscanthus on their land on a small scale or a larger
scale,? Kane said. ??This could become a crop that can be grown and sold.
It could also bring back nutrients and soil structure, so the long-term
impact could be economic and environmental.?

Skousen said his life??s goal is to find a way to use the hundreds of
thousands of acres of reclaimed surface mines around West Virginia in a
productive way to improve the state??s economy.

??We're a little unique that we have these mined lands,? Skousen said.
??We can utilize these lands that aren't being used now and put carbon
back into them. The better we can have plants grow and take CO2 from the
air and put it into the ground, the better outcome we can have with
climate change.?

Understanding the relationship between miscanthus and its microbes will
help Morrissey and other scientists determine the optimal management
practice in the future.

??If we are going to transition to using bioenergy, we need to make sure
that we can make these crops reliably productive even under climate
variability like drought,? Morrissey said

The grass may be greener on old mine sites as WVU researchers test
resiliency of bioenergy crops | WVU Today | West Virginia University

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