Feeding the biofuels beast: Self-fulfilling Malthusian prophesy and regulations

March 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm

“While the role that current U.S. bioenergy expansion has played in driving food prices is still debated,39,40 there is no question that at some point reallocation of U.S. croplands will directly impact global food prices. Consequences of increased global food prices include higher rates of poverty and malnutrition as well as increased global deforestation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as forests are cleared to accommodate agricultural expansion.40  These detrimental impacts, associated with global food instability, highlight the importance of minimizing or even reversing current food and feed production displacement due to bioenergy expansion. 40″ (ref link below)

“The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) stipulates a total renewable energy target of 136 billion L by 2022, with 57 billion L of starch-derived ethanol and 79 billion L of cellulosic-derived ethanol (Table 3).2   If we consider only current U.S. agricultural harvest, we estimate that roughly 80% of current recovered harvest (HRC) would need to be reallocated for the production of bioenergy to meet the target stipulated in the EISA (Figure 4). Conversely, if only expansion of agricultural land is considered, we estimate over 80% of managed rangeland or nearly 60% of total rangeland productivity would need to be allocated to bioenergy production to satisfy EISA targets (Figure 4).”

“Not only could converting rangeland to agriculture result in significant detrimental impacts on biological diversity, but the utilization of remote regions would initially require infrastructure establishment resulting in large-scale fossil fuel energy inputs and a significant initial C debt of bioenergy systems.41 Moreover, even though we excluded permanent pasturelands from our analysis, the majority of rangeland in the U.S. experiences some degree of grazing, indicating that expansion into these areas will likely displace a portion of feed production, which could ultimately drive future deforestation and consequentially, increase GHG emissions. 42,43”

“Unfortunately, next generation technology is still unavailable for large-scale bioenergy production due mainly to difficulties in converting lignocellulose to a useable form. 44 Evaluating the EISA energy targets utilizing only starch-derived ethanol technology resulted in an equivalent primary bioenergy requirement of approximately 6.5 EJ yr−1, a value significantly larger than current total U.S. maize production.22 This suggests that EISA energy targets could not be satisfied under current productivity trends without total displacement of U.S. maize production and significant rangeland expansion (Table 3; Figure 4). Already, delays in up-scaling next generation bioenergy technology have resulted in projections to expand the utilization of the starch derived ethanol pathway, which will likely result in further displacement of food and feed production land with relatively low net bioenergy output. 45”

“Equally concerning, agricultural intensification has resulted in increased emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O), a trace gas species with a global warming potential roughly 300 times greater than an equal mass of CO2. 55,56 Already, research suggests that fertilizer derived N2O emissions from some bioenergy cropping systems have exceeded their potential CO2 offset, resulting in a net increase in atmospheric GHG warming potential. 55,56 Thus, any positive impact of future increases in fertilization on productivity could be offset by amplification of freshwater degradation and acceleration of climate change. 57”

Bioenergy Potential of the United States Constrained by Satellite Observations of Existing Productivity

W. Kolby Smith,*,† Cory C. Cleveland,‡ Sasha C. Reed,§ Norman L. Miller,∥ and Steven W. Running†

†Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, United States

‡Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, United States

§U.S. Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science Center, 2290 S.W. Resource Boulevard, Moab, Utah 84532, United States

∥Department of Geography, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, United States


(40)  Naylor, R. L.; et al. The ripple effect: Biofuels, food security, and the environment.  Environment 2007, 49, 30−43.



About budbromley

Life sciences executive, retired
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