Maize stover, including stalks, leaves, and cobs, has potential utility as a cellulosic biofeedstock. Understanding how total stover ethanol potential is affected by the proportion and quality of major plant components would facilitate the genetic improvement of stover quality and inform decisions regarding which plant parts should be targeted for harvesting. Our objectives were to determine how the proportion and composition of plant components affected ethanol potential and whether there are early season predictors of stover quality at maturity. Twenty-three hybrids were evaluated including 20 from a factorial mating design between five silage inbred lines and four commercial inbreds and a brown-midrib3, a Leafy1, and a commercial grain hybrid checks. Plants were harvested and dissected into component parts at developmental stages vegetative 3, vegetative 12, reproductive 3, and reproductive 6 (R6). Tissues were evaluated for acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and NDF digestibility (NDFD). Stalk was the largest fraction of whole plant dry matter (46.2%) and had the lowest NDFD (3,750 g/kg) at R6. No relationship was found between stalk ADF at early developmental stages and whole plant ADF at R6, suggesting that quality at early developmental stages is not indicative of quality at physiological maturity. Differences were observed among hybrids for ADF and NDF for most plant parts evaluated. Hybrid-by-developmental stage and hybrid-by-plant part interactions were statistically significant. This indicates that there is minimal opportunity to identify superior hybrids for biofuel production based on the proportion of total biomass represented by a plant part and its quality at early developmental stages. Maximum conversion efficiency is attained when leaves are harvested compared to other tissue types at physiological maturity.
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Acknowledgments The authors would like to acknowledge Dustin Eilert, Pat Flannery, and Robert Vogelzang for technical assistance. This work was supported by USDA Hatch Funds project 02208863 and the US Department of Energy through the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center Grant DE-FC02-07ER64494.
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