Plant on Abandoned Farmlands to Make Biofuels Work, Study Says


Image from Thiru Murugan

Biofuels could yet play a pivotal role in future energy generation if done right, according to a study released by scientists from Stanford University's Carnegie Institution. To avoid the need to displace agricultural production or forests, abandoned or depleted farmlands should be used to plant energy crops. This strategy could prove particularly fruitful for developing countries, where the potential exists to produce large quantities of bioenergy that would far outstrip their current needs.

africa grasslands

Image from Randy OHC
The energy potential of abandoned farmland crop biofuel production
Elliott Campbell, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Global Ecology, and his colleagues calculated that there may be up to 4.7 million square kilometers, or 1.8 million square miles, of abandoned farmlands available worldwide. The potential yield could be as much as 2.1 billion tons of dry biomass, enough to produce 41 exajoules' (1 exajoule = 1 billion billion joules) worth of bioenergy -- roughly equivalent to the energy content of 170 million barrels of oil.

The researchers used historical land-use data, satellite images and ecosystem models to calculate the amount of abandoned or degraded agricultural lands and estimate their biofuel potential. Land that had been converted to urban areas or reverted back to forests wasn't factored into their calculations.

Finding opportunities in the developing world
At best, then, this would still only supply approximately 8 percent of current global energy needs. In some developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Campbell believes biomass could provide up to 37 times the amount of energy used now. Thanks to their low fossil fuel consumption and highly productive grassland systems, this can all be done without compromising either food production or forest integrity, the authors argue.

"At the national scale, the bioenergy potential is largest in the United States, Brazil, and Australia. These countries have the most extensive areas of abandoned crop and pasture lands. Eastern North America has the largest area of abandoned croplands, and the Midwest has the biggest expanse of abandoned pastureland. Even so, if 100% of these lands were used for bioenergy, they would still only yield enough for about 6% of our national energy needs," said Campbell.

Via ::ScienceDaily: Abandoned Farmlands Are Key To Sustainable Bioenergy (news website)

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