Argonne lab finds changes in reflectivity on land used for biofuel crops

November 21, 2016 |

In Illinois, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory have conducted a detailed study of the reflectivity effects of converting land to grow biofuel crops.

Their study is part of an overall analysis of greenhouse gas emissions from land use change: instances where land that was previously forests, grasslands or pastureland is converted to producing biofuel crops. Historically, these types of analyses considered only changes in the amount of carbon stored in the soil and vegetation of these lands.

The new analysis, published in The Royal Chemistry Society’s Energy & Environmental Science, incorporates the additional effect of changes in reflectivity, or “albedo.” Albedo effects sum up the amount of incoming solar energy that gets reflected back into space; these changes, along with numerous other factors, in turn contribute to changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

While there is much data variability, the findings reveal that when a piece of land is changed to produce a biofuel crop, albedo effects also changed. When only albedo change effects are considered, researchers found that land converted to producing corn ethanol had a net cooling effect on climate. By comparison, land that was converted to producing miscanthus and switchgrass, two other plant sources for next-generation biofuels, had a net warming effect. But when carbon stock changes, another key effect of land use change, are also taken into account, corn and switchgrass ethanol exhibit net warming effects associated with land use change whereas miscanthus grass ethanol exhibits a net cooling effect.

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Category: Research

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