Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Energy from biomass pays even with forest protection in the long term

Forest protection – safeguarding woodland from being cleared and converted to fields for energy crops – reduces the global economic potential of bioenergy only in the short term.

If less additional land is available for cultivation, this can be compensated by higher rates of yield-raising investments. This is shown by a new study. However, following this scenario global food production prices could rise considerably.

Generating energy from crops instead of oil and coal can have counterproductive effects. “The use of biomass can lead to additional emissions of greenhouse gases”, says lead author Alexander Popp of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “This is the case if forests get cut down to plant energy crops instead.” Forests are important CO2 sinks. At the same time, biomass is expected to play an important role in future energy systems.

Therefore, a team of nine researchers investigated the potential of bioenergy constrained by forest protection. “We did not just calculate the biophysical potential”, Popp points out. “We established which amount of bioenergy, competing with other forms of energy, in the end is really cost-effective.” The scientists simulated this with complex computer-based models. The results now have been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

For the first time, a global land-use model was coupled with a model of the energy system and a vegetation model in a way that allows dynamic and detailed simulation of the tradeoffs between different factors. Amongst the factors taken into account are technological change, cropland expansion, and the change of dietary patterns in societies with growing wealth.

The outcome is that biomass in 2095 can contribute up to 270 exajoules to the worldwide energy supply – mainly in combination with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This is just ten percent less than the potential without forest protection. Thus, about one fifth of the estimated global energy demand by the end of the century could be satisfied. In the year 2055 things look different. At this point in time, forest protection still shows the effect of considerably reducing the economic potential of bioenergy: from 100 to 70 exajoules, or 30 percent less. However, with respect to the importance of CCS for the contribution of bioenergy to climate change mitigation one needs to consider that the availability of this technology is still uncertain.

When forests get excluded from conversion to cropland for energy plants this increases competition for arable land between bioenergy and food production. This is the case even if – as done in the study presented – instead of edible crops such as corn and sugar cane, rather species like poplar and Miscanthus grass are planned for energy production. This leads to an increase of food production costs. “If one wants to achieve high potentials of bioenergy under the constraint of forest protection, much more investment has to be made in increasing agricultural productivity”, Popp says. “Also, we need to find new ways of really transfering technological change for instance to peasants in developing countries.”

If the goal is to prevent dangerous climate change, this can hardly be reached without expanding the use of energy from biomass, says Ottmar Edenhofer, co-author of the study and chief economist of PIK. “Without biomass plus carbon capture and storage – the sequestration of CO2 when those plants are used to fire power stations – climate protection might get quite expensive, as many studies show.” On the other hand, it becomes clear how inappropriate some one-sided praise of bioenergy is. “This kind of energy also comes at a price”, Edenhofer says. “Policies therefore shouldn’t just aim at the bioenergy but also integrate issues of land-use change and global food security.”

Article: Popp, A., Dietrich, J.P., Lotze-Campen H., Klein, D., Bauer, N., Krause, M., Beringer, T., Gerten, D., Edenhofer, O. (2011): The economic potential of bioenergy for climate change mitigation with special attention given to implications for the land system. Environmental Research Letters [doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034017]

For further information please contact the PIK press office:

Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Related studies from PIK:
Popp A., Lotze-Campen, H., Leimbach M., Knopf B., Beringer, T., Bauer N., Bodirsky B. (2011): On sustainability of bio-energy production: integrating co-emissions from agricultural intensification. Biomass & Bioenergy [doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.06.014]

Beringer, T., Lucht, W., Schaphoff, S. (2011): Bioenergy production potential of global biomass plantations under environmental and agricultural constraints. GCB Bioenergy [doi:10.1111/j.1757-1707.2010.01088.x]

Lotze-Campen, H., Popp, A., Beringer, T., Müller, C., Bondeau, A., Rost, S., Lucht, W. (2010): Scenarios of global bioenergy production: The trade-offs between agricultural expansion, intensification and trade. Ecological Modelling 221: 2188-2196 [doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2009.10.002]

Jonas Viering | PIK Potsdam
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>