Article | Published:

Impacts of a 32-billion-gallon bioenergy landscape on land and fossil fuel use in the US

Nature Energy volume 1, Article number: 15005 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

Sustainable transportation biofuels may require considerable changes in land use to meet mandated targets. Understanding the possible impact of different policies on land use and greenhouse gas emissions has typically proceeded by exploring either ecosystem or economic modelling. Here we integrate such models to assess the potential for the US Renewable Fuel Standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector through the use of cellulosic biofuels. We find that 2022 US emissions are decreased by 7.0 ± 2.5% largely through gasoline displacement and soil carbon storage by perennial grasses. If the Renewable Fuel Standard is accompanied by a cellulosic biofuel tax credit, these emissions could be reduced by 12.3 ± 3.4%. Our integrated approach indicates that transitioning to cellulosic biofuels can meet a 32-billion-gallon Renewable Fuel Standard target with negligible effects on food crop production, while reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. However, emissions savings are lower than previous estimates that did not account for economic constraints.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from $8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    ,  & Land-use and greenhouse gas implications of biofuels: Role of technology and policy. Clim. Change Econ. 3, 1250013 (2012).

  2. 2.

    , ,  & Meeting biofuels targets: Implications for land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen use in Illinois. Handbook Bioenerg. Econ. Policy 33, 287–305 (2010).

  3. 3.

    ,  & Modeling bioenergy, land use, and GHG emissions with FASOMGHG: Model overview and analysis of storage cost implications. Clim. Change Econ. 3, 1250012 (2012).

  4. 4.

    et al. Sustainable bioenergy production from marginal lands in the US Midwest. Nature 493, 514–517 (2013).

  5. 5.

    et al. Global simulation of bioenergy crop productivity: Analytical framework and case study for switchgrass. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 6, 14–25 (2014).

  6. 6.

    , ,  & Modeling spatial and dynamic variation in growth, yield, and yield stability of the bioenergy crops Miscanthus x giganteus and Panicum virgatum across the conterminous United States. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 4, 509–520 (2012).

  7. 7.

    ,  & A quantitative review comparing the yield of switchgrass in monocultures and mixtures in relation to climate and management factors. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 2, 16–25 (2010).

  8. 8.

    et al. Modeling long-term yield trends of Miscanthus x giganteus using experimental data from across Europe. Field Crops Res. 149, 252–260 (2013).

  9. 9.

    ,  & Miscanthus biomass productivity within US croplands and its potential impact on soil organic carbon. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 5, 391–399 (2013).

  10. 10.

    et al. Impact of second-generation biofuel agriculture on greenhouse-gas emissions in the corn-growing regions of the US. Front. Ecol. Environ. 10, 69–74 (2012).

  11. 11.

    et al. Comparative biogeochemical cycles of bioenergy crops reveal nitrogen-fixation and low greenhouse gas emissions in a Miscanthus x giganteus agro-ecosystem. Ecosystems 13, 144–156 (2010).

  12. 12.

    ,  & Seasonal nitrogen dynamics of Miscanthus x giganteus and Panicum virgatum. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 1, 297–307 (2009).

  13. 13.

    , ,  & Changes in soil organic carbon under biofuel crops. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 1, 75–96 (2009).

  14. 14.

    , ,  & Alternative transportation fuel standards: Welfare effects and climate benefits. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 67, 241–257 (2014).

  15. 15.

    ,  & Direct climate effects of perennial bioenergy crops in the United States. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 4307–4312 (2011).

  16. 16.

    et al. Managing Agricultural Greenhouse Gases: Coordinated Agricultural Research through Gracenet to Address Our Changing Climate 241–250 (Elsevier, 2012).

  17. 17.

    , ,  & DAYCENT and its land surface submodel: Description and testing. Glob. Planet. Change 19, 35–48 (1998).

  18. 18.

    ,  & Costs of producing miscanthus and switchgrass for bioenergy in Illinois. Biomass Bioenerg. 32, 482–493 (2008).

  19. 19.

     & Biofuel policies and carbon leakage. AgBioForum 14, 104–110 (2011).

  20. 20.

    ,  & Indirect fuel use change (IFUC) and the lifecycle environmental impact of biofuel policies. Energ. Policy 39, 228–233 (2011).

  21. 21.

    ,  & Effects of US biofuel policies on US and world petroleum product markets with consequences for greenhouse gas emissions. Energ. Policy 39, 5509–5518 (2011).

  22. 22.

     & The market-mediated effects of low carbon fuel policies. AgBioForum 15, 89–105 (2012).

  23. 23.

    The fuel market effects of biofuel policies and implications for regulations based on lifecycle emissions. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 024013 (2013).

  24. 24.

    ,  & Are there Carbon Savings from US Biofuel Policies? Accounting for Leakage in Land and Fuel Markets Proceedings paper: 2011 (Social Science Research Network, 2011);

  25. 25.

    , ,  & DAYCENT model analysis of past and contemporary soil N2O and net greenhouse gas flux for major crops in the USA. Soil Tillage Res. 83, 9–24 (2005).

  26. 26.

    et al. Assessing the soil carbon, biomass production, and nitrous oxide emission impact of Corn Stover Management for bioenergy feedstock production using DAYCENT. Bioenerg. Res. 7, 491–502 (2014).

  27. 27.

    , ,  & Bioenergy crop greenhouse gas mitigation potential under a range of management practices. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 7, 366–374 (2015).

  28. 28.

    Induced land use emissions due to first and second generation biofuels and uncertainty in land use emission factors. Econ. Res. Int. 2013, 1–12 (2013).

  29. 29.

    et al. Cost of abating greenhouse gas emissions with cellulosic ethanol. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 2512–2522 (2015).

  30. 30.

    et al. Biofuels from crop residue can reduce soil carbon and increase CO2 emissions. Nature Clim. Change 4, 398–401 (2014).

  31. 31.

    et al. The theoretical limit to plant productivity. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 9471–9477 (2014).

  32. 32.

    et al. Altered belowground carbon cycling following land-use change to perennial bioenergy crops. Ecosystems 10, 508–520 (2013).

  33. 33.

    et al. Carbon exchange by establishing biofuel crops in Central Illinois. Agric. Ecosys. Environ. 144, 319–329 (2011).

  34. 34.

    , , ,  & The potential of Miscanthus to sequester carbon in soils: Comparing field measurements in Carlow, Ireland to model predictions. Glob. Change Biol. Bioenerg. 1, 413–425 (2009).

  35. 35.

    , ,  & Energy balances and greenhouse gas-mitigation potentials of bioenergy cropping systems (Miscanthus, rapeseed, and maize) based on farming conditions in Western Germany. Renew. Energ. 55, 160–174 (2013).

  36. 36.

    , ,  & Soil carbon storage by switchgrass grown for bioenergy. Bioenerg. Res. 1, 215–222 (2008).

  37. 37.

    , ,  & Carbon consequences of forest disturbance and recovery across the conterminous United States. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 26, GB1005 (2012).

  38. 38.

     & Second-best biofuel policies and the welfare effects of quantity mandates and subsidies. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 63, 224–241 (2012).

  39. 39.

    , ,  & Welfare impacts of alternative biofuel and energy policies. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 93, 1235–1256 (2011).

  40. 40.

    , ,  & Assessing the welfare effects of US biofuel policies. AgBioForum 13, 370–374 (2011).

  41. 41.

    et al. Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319, 1238–1240 (2008).

  42. 42.

    , , ,  & Do biofuel policies seek to cut emissions by cutting food? Science 347, 1420–1422 (2015).

  43. 43.

     & Modeling agricultural supply response using mathematical programming and crop mixes. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 94, 674–686 (2012).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by funding from the North Central Regional Sun Grant Center at South Dakota State University through a grant provided by the US Department of Energy Office of Biomass Programs under award number DE-FG36-08GO88073, with additional support provided by the Energy Biosciences Institute, University of Illinois and University of California, Berkeley.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, 875 Perimeter Drive, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844, USA

    • Tara W. Hudiburg
  2. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics, 1301 W. Gregory Drive, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA

    • WeiWei Wang
    •  & Madhu Khanna
  3. Department of Plant Biology, 505 South Goodwin Avenue, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA

    • Stephen P. Long
    •  & Evan H. DeLucia
  4. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, 180 E Green Street, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA

    • Puneet Dwivedi
  5. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA

    • William J. Parton
    •  & Melannie Hartman

Authors

  1. Search for Tara W. Hudiburg in:

  2. Search for WeiWei Wang in:

  3. Search for Madhu Khanna in:

  4. Search for Stephen P. Long in:

  5. Search for Puneet Dwivedi in:

  6. Search for William J. Parton in:

  7. Search for Melannie Hartman in:

  8. Search for Evan H. DeLucia in:

Contributions

T.W.H., E.H.D., W.W. and M.K. designed and implemented the study with help from P.D., S.P.L., W.J.P. and M.H. T.W.H., W.W., E.H.D. and M.K. co-wrote the paper and W.J.P. and M.H. contributed to parts of the analysis. S.P.L. provided essential data and methods for the analysis and valuable comments on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Evan H. DeLucia.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2015.5