University of Illinois researchers says energy crops can reduce GHG without displacing food

January 12, 2016 |

In Illinois, second-generation biofuel crops like the perennial grasses Miscanthus and switchgrass can efficiently meet emission reduction goals without significantly displacing cropland used for food production, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Illinois and collaborators published their findings in the inaugural edition of the journal Nature Energy. The researchers call it the most comprehensive study on the subject to date.

Switching from using 40 percent of the corn crop for ethanol production to using the same land to grow biofuel grasses “changed the entire agricultural Midwest from a net source of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, to a net sink.”

The new study assumes farmers won’t take their most productive farmland and use it for bioenergy crops, but they may use low-yielding land—for example, low-quality pastures in the West, which already host perennial grasses.

The new approach addresses a frequent complaint about second-generation bioenergy crops. If biofuel crops replace food crops, the critics argue, farmers around the world would be encouraged to indirectly convert new land into production. The carbon emitted from that process would reduce any savings from greenhouse gas reduction. By changing the land that’s being used to grow biofuel crops from cropland to marginal land, the researchers say that the indirect land use change effect becomes very small. However, another economic effect arises involving the global oil market, and could offset a part of the greenhouse gas savings achieved by biofuels.

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Category: Research

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