Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nations That Sow Food Crops for Biofuels May Reap Less than Previously Thought

16.01.2009
Global yields of most biofuels crops, including corn, rapeseed and wheat, have been overestimated by 100 to 150 percent or more, suggesting many countries need to reset their expectations of agricultural biofuels to a more realistic level.

That’s according to a study led by Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Jon Foley of University of Minnesota, which drew on actual agricultural data from nearly 240 countries to calculate the potential yields of 20 different biofuels worldwide.

The analysis, publishing today (Jan. 13) in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters, indicates the biofuels production potential in both developing and developed countries has often been exaggerated. Why? Because current yield estimates, most of which are based on data from the United States and Europe, don’t account for local differences in climate, soils, technology and other factors that influence agricultural outputs.

By offering an analysis of detailed, regional yield data that do encompass this variability, the scientists hope to empower wiser choices by countries about whether to invest in ethanol or biodiesel, which crops to plant, and how best to use existing farmlands. Although agricultural biofuels have been sharply criticized for their impacts on the environment and food supply, the reality is they’re here to stay, say the researchers, at least until alternatives such as cellulosic ethanol are developed. And that makes the availability of sound information critical.

“The biofuels industry has grown at an incredible rate. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry now,” says Johnston, a graduate student in the Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE). “So, what we’ve tried to do is move beyond the back-of-the-envelope calculation — the time for that is over. We need to look at better data sources and make more informed decisions.”

In the past, he explains, policymakers, companies and farmers have based decisions about biofuels in part on “yield tables,” which make simple side-by-side comparisons of the fuel yield per unit of land for various crops; for example, the amount of ethanol a hectare of sugarcane will generate versus a hectare of corn.

The problem with these widely quoted tables, says Johnston, is the original sources of the numbers usually aren’t cited, making it impossible to gauge their validity. What’s more, the tables typically select a single value — often from just one country or even a single farm — to represent the yield of each crop regardless of where it’s grown.

“Often these are very optimistic numbers and they’re chosen to promote biofuels,” says Johnston. “So they usually (represent) the highest-yield, best-case scenario.”

To take a more sober look, Johnston turned to a global agricultural database, developed at SAGE, which provides actual yields of 175 crops, circa the year 2000, at a resolution of roughly five miles by five miles across the entire globe. After tapping it for yields of 10 biodiesel crops, such as soybean, rapeseed and oil palm, and 10 ethanol feedstocks, including corn, rice and wheat, Johnston calculated and mapped the amount of biofuel that could be produced per hectare in every possible country by crop combination — some 3,000 in all.

To evaluate his numbers against published yield table values, he then computed a global average yield for each of the 20 fuels, as well as the average yields of each in both developed and developing nations as a whole.

What he found were large gaps between the yield table numbers and his own, especially for developing countries. For instance, while his calculation for the average yield of corn ethanol in developed countries matched well with current yield table estimates, the average yield of developing countries was nearly 100 percent lower.

Such disparities weren’t restricted to the developing world either. Canada, for example, is one of the world’s largest producers of rapeseed. Yet, Johnston calculated its average yield of rapeseed biodiesel at just 550 liters per hectare — nearly half the estimates in yield tables, and well below the average for other developed nations.

Researchers at SAGE and University of Minnesota plan next to compare yields of biofuels in areas with similar climates, and then study how differences in management practices, such as irrigation or fertilizer use, may be contributing to gaps in production. The idea is to help countries get the most from existing farmlands, so they’ll put less new land to the plow and can better balance investment in biofuels against other needs, such as food security. But first they just need better data.

“This is not a one-dimensional issue and just knowing the crop yields isn’t going to tell you what the best solution is,” says Holloway. “But if you’re going to be making land use decisions related to biofuels, it’s critical that you at least know what you’re going to get from a plot of land.”

All data from the study can be acquired from SAGE at http://www.sage.wisc.edu/energy/index.html. The paper’s other authors are Chris Kucharik, SAGE, and Chad Monfreda, Arizona State University.

Madeline Fisher | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu
http://www.sage.wisc.edu/energy/index.html

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Researchers discover natural product that could lead to new class of commercial herbicide
16.07.2018 | UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

nachricht Advance warning system via cell phone app: Avoiding extreme weather damage in agriculture
12.07.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF) e.V.

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Barium ruthenate: A high-yield, easy-to-handle perovskite catalyst for the oxidation of sulfides

16.07.2018 | Life Sciences

New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon

16.07.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>