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J Exp Bot. 2015 Jul;66(14):4367-71. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erv108. Epub 2015 Mar 30.

Preventing lodging in bioenergy crops: a biomechanical analysis of maize stalks suggests a new approach.

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3916 S Arlington Rd #708 Uniontown, OH 44685, USA.
Division of Engineering, New York University Abu Dhabi, PO Box 129188, Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Division of Engineering, New York University Abu Dhabi, PO Box 129188, Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


The hypothetical ideal for maize (Zea mays) bioenergy production would be a no-waste plant: high-yielding, with silage that is easily digestible for conversion to biofuel. However, increased digestibility is typically associated with low structural strength and a propensity for lodging. The solution to this dilemma may lie in our ability to optimize maize morphology using tools from structural engineering. To investigate how material (tissue) and geometric (morphological) factors influence stalk strength, detailed structural models of the maize stalk were created using finite-element software. Model geometry was obtained from high-resolution x-ray computed tomography (CT) scans, and scan intensity information was integrated into the models to infer inhomogeneous material properties. A sensitivity analysis was performed by systematically varying material properties over broad ranges, and by modifying stalk geometry. Computational models exhibited realistic stress and deformation patterns. In agreement with natural failure patterns, maximum stresses were predicted near the node. Maximum stresses were observed to be much more sensitive to changes in dimensions of the stalk cross section than they were to changes in material properties of stalk components. The average sensitivity to geometry was found to be more than 10-fold higher than the average sensitivity to material properties. These results suggest a new strategy for the breeding and development of bioenergy maize varieties in which tissue weaknesses are counterbalanced by relatively small increases (e.g. 5%) in stalk diameter that reduce structural stresses.


Biomechanics; corn; crop; finite element; lodging; maize (Zea mays); material properties; mechanical stress; sensitivity analysis; stalk.

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