Biofuel production on abandoned lands could meet 20% of global oil demand
June 23, 2008
Using historical land-use data, satellite imaging, and ecosystem models, a team of researchers estimate that 4.7 million square kilometers (1.8 million square miles) of abandoned agricultural lands could be available for producing up to 2.1 billion tons of biomass from energy crops. The biomass would yield an energy content of about 41 exajoules or roughly 7 billion barrels of oil — about 8 percent of current worldwide energy demand or 20 percent of annual oil consumption.
Forest cover versus palm oil production in Indonesia.
"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 Elliot Campbell, lead author of the study and a research at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University.
"The popular reaction to the recent biofuels papers in Science has been to say that we could still go big with biofuels but along a sustainable path," he told mongabay.com. "The results in this paper warn that this sustainable path leads to a small amount of energy."
"Our study shows that there is clearly a potential for developing sustainable bioenergy, and we've been able to identify areas where biomass can be grown for energy, without endangering food security or making climate change worse," added Christopher Field, director of the Department of Global Ecology and a co-author. "But we can't count on bioenergy to be a dominant contributor to the global energy system over the next few decades. Expanding beyond its sustainable limits would threaten food security and have serious environmental impacts."
Stanford Global Climate and Energy Project
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Growing demand for biodiesel could drive large-scale forest conversion for energy crops, warns a study published in Conservation Biology. With petroleum supplies expected to peak in the next 5-30 years and growing concern over climate change, biodiesel production may expand by 100-fold by 2050, estimates Lian Pin Koh, a researcher from Princeton University. Koh says that much of this expansion could come at the expense of forests, but the degree of which depends on the feedstocks used. Energy crops like palm oil are significantly more productive than more widely used rapeseed -- which currently accounts for 84 percent of biodiesel production -- but are more likely to be established in carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems like the tropical forests of southeast Asia. As such, the environmental trade-off between feedstocks is complex.
Conservation more effective than biofuels for fighting global warming August 15, 2007
Conserving forests and grasslands may be a more effective land-use strategy for fighting climate change than growing biofuel crops argues a new paper published in the journal Science.