Growing Biofuels on “Surplus” Land May Be Harder Than Estimated
by Nathanael Massey (Scientific American/Climatewire) A new study shows that degraded, marginal or abandoned land may not be very productive for growing fuel crops
…From the California desert to the badlands around Chernobyl, Ukraine, bioenergy is taking root in the form of moss and algae. In Ireland and Denmark, farmers are planting switchgrass and miscanthus in low-grade soil, hoping to turn a profit on biofuels markets.
Surplus land, or land unused in either conservation or agricultural production, offers an elegant solution to the food versus fuel arguments that have plagued bioenergy since its inception. If you can’t grow food on it, the logic runs, why not plant fuel?
The problem, according to a new study in the journal BioRisk, is that the productive capacity of known surplus lands may be greatly overestimated.
…A collaborative work by 11 scientists in Europe and the United States, the BioRiskstudy identifies a series of caveats that must be taken into consideration when assessing the viability of surplus land for biofuel cultivation.
The study finds that availability of water resources, soil quality, conservation requirements, greenhouse gas emissions from disturbed soils and existing habitation or other human use are all factors that need to be taken into consideration — and have sometimes been ignored — when designating marginal land for the production of biofuel.
Even hearty species like switchgrass and miscanthus, perennial species that grow in regions unsuitable for agriculture, tend to yield less biomass when planted in nutrient-poor or degraded soil, Dauber said.
…Mixing crops, like switchgrass and legumes, could help restore fallow land while at the same time yielding viable biofuel products, Dauber said. READ MORE