Tradeoffs between yield, disease incidence and conversion efficiency for selection of hybrid poplar genotypes as bioenergy feedstocks
Lignocellulosic biomass is an alternative source of energy that can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Several techno-economic analyses have consistently shown that all the steps in biomass-to-bioproduct processes needs improvement. Simultaneous assessment of genotypes for multiple productivity characteristics and integrating information across production stages has seldom been the focus of research efforts. To address this gap, we first determined the agronomic performance of 10 poplar genotypes. Differences between genotypes in height, diameter at breast height (DBH), tree mass and yield were consistently observed. Correlation analyses revealed that height and DBH are positively correlated with tree mass and yield, whereas bark content is negatively correlated with tree mass, yield and disease incidence. Four highest-yielding genotypes were subjected to proximate, ultimate, targeted chemical analyses, along with assessment of sugar production by acid hydrolysis and enzymatic saccharification. Despite having only marginal changes in overall chemistry, the genotypes showed differential conversion efficiencies of enzymatic saccharification. Interestingly, the genotype that showed highest cellulose conversion efficiency had the lowest estimated sugar yields due to its low biomass yield, whereas the genotype with lowest conversion efficiency had the highest estimated sugar yields. These results show the importance of integrating information across the stages of biomass production and bioconversion. These results also demonstrate the complexity of biomass feedstock production and the need for future studies to assess whether these tradeoffs can be genetically separated to guide the selection of genotypes that can maximize the overall biomass feedstock production efficiency.