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!
Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Computer scientists use wave packet theory to develop realistic, detailed water wave simulations in real time. Their results will be presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference.
Think about the last time you were at a lake, river, or the ocean. Remember the ripples of the water, the waves crashing against the rocks, the wake following...
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
29.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.06.2017 | Life Sciences
29.06.2017 | Health and Medicine