The promise of switchgrass, the challenges for forests and the costs of corn-based ethanol production: Ecological scientists review the many factors surrounding biofuel crop production and its implications on ecosystem health in three new Biofuels and Sustainability Reports.
Produced by the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the nation's largest organization of ecological scientists, and sponsored by the Energy Foundation, these reports explore the production and use of biofuels from an ecological perspective.
Biofuels are liquid fuels derived from biological materials, such as plant stems and stalks, vegetable oils, forest products or waste materials. The raw materials, called feedstock, can be grown specifically for fuel purposes or can be derived from existing sources such as agricultural residue or municipal garbage. Sustainable biofuels are based on production that does not negatively affect energy flow, nutrient cycles and ecosystem services.
There are many options currently being explored for biofuel production and the reports address the implications of producing biofuels from forests, grasslands, rangelands and agricultural systems and the likely effects on water, soil and the atmosphere.
Sustainable Biofuels from Forests
Marilyn Buford and Daniel Neary from the U.S. Forest Service outline the challenges surrounding the production of sustainable biofuels from woody biomass, including balancing energy demands with water production, wildlife habitats and carbon sequestration in "Sustainable Biofuels from Forests: Meeting the Challenge."
Woody biomass from forests can be converted to biofuels, biobased products and biopower through thermochemical (heat and pressure converts woody biomass into alcohols and other chemicals), biochemical (woody biomass is broken down into sugars) and direct combustion methods. The researchers suggest that 334 million dry metric tons of forest wastes and residues could be produced each year on a sustainable basis in the U.S. These residues and wastes would come from logging activities, processing mills and pulp and paper production among other sources.
Grasslands, Rangelands and Agricultural Systems
In "Grasslands, Rangelands and Agricultural Systems," scientists Rob Mitchell, Linda Wallace, Wallace Wilhelm, Gary Varvel and Brian Wienhold discuss sustainable biofuel options in grasslands and rangelands that dominate the mid-region of the U.S. They specifically address recent interest from policymakers and energy producers in switchgrass for bioenergy, and the effects this perennial crop has on soil and water.
"Switchgrass has garnered a lot of attention as a potentially efficient, profitable and environmentally-friendly biofuel crop," says Rob Mitchell from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. "It is known for its environmental advantages on marginal cropland like reducing inputs, controlling erosion, sequestering carbon and enhancing wildlife habitat. But there is an array of factors to consider. For example, switchgrass roots run deeper than other crops, so deep soil samples are required to determine the exact amount of fertilizer to be applied to prevent nutrient run-off. Therefore, switchgrass, as with all biofuel crops, will require innovative and site-specific management practices in order to be economically and environmentally sustainable."
Growing Plants for Fuel
"Growing Plants for Fuel: Predicting Effects on Water, Soil and the Atmosphere," authored by Philip Robertson, Stephen Hamilton, Stephen Del Grosso and William Parton, reviews the trade-offs associated with gasoline blended with corn-based ethanol. They describe the consequences of this particular biofuel on the atmosphere, marine and freshwater ecosystems, wildlife habitats and on the area of land available for food production.
The researchers also discuss the potential benefits of cellulosic feedstocks, such as the woody biomass and switchgrass methods listed above, as alternative biofuel feedstocks that could avoid many of the downsides of grain-based biofuel crops, such as corn.
These three reports join an additional report published in January called "Biofuels: Implications for Land Use and Biodiversity." In that ESA report, scientists Virginia Dale, Keith Kline, John Wiens and Joseph Fargione review current research on biofuel production and its potential effects on ecosystems. They also analyze the social, economic and ecological challenges of biofuel production and the most effective routes to developing sustainable, renewable fuel alternatives.
All four reports are available online at http://esa.org/biofuelsreports/. The final report in the series—a synthesis of the ecological dimensions of biofuel production—will be published later in 2010.
The Energy Foundation is a partnership of major donors interested in solving the world's energy problems. Their mission is to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy—new technologies that are essential components of a clean energy future. Visit http://www.ef.org for details.
The Ecological Society of America is the world's largest professional organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United States and around the globe. Since its founding in 1915, ESA has promoted the responsible application of ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress. ESA publishes four journals and convenes an annual scientific conference. Visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.
Katie Kline | EurekAlert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy