Using detailed land analysis, Illinois researchers have found that biofuel crops cultivated on available land could produce up to half of the world’s current fuel consumption – without affecting food crops or pastureland.
The critical concept of the Illinois study was that only marginal land would be considered for biofuel crops. Marginal land refers to land with low inherent productivity, that has been abandoned or degraded, or is of low quality for agricultural uses. In focusing on marginal land, the researchers rule out current crop land, pasture land, and forests. They also assume that any biofuel crops would be watered by rainfall and not irrigation, so no water would have to be diverted from agricultural land.
Scenario 1 – only idle land and vegetation land with marginal productivity;
Scenario 2 – added degraded or low-quality cropland. They estimated 702 million hectares of land available for second-generation biofuel crops, such as switchgrass or miscanthus.
Scenario 3 – added marginal grassland. A class of biofuel crops called low-impact high-diversity (LIHD) perennial grasses could produce bioenergy while maintaining grassland. While they have a lower ethanol yield than grasses such as miscanthus or switchgrass, LIHD grasses have minimal environmental impact and are similar to grassland’s natural land cover. This nearly nearly doubled the estimated land area to 1,107 million hectares globally, even after subtracting possible pasture land – an area that would produce 26 to 56 percent of the world’s current liquid fuel consumption.
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