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


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.

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Figure 1: Integrated modelling framework of combined ecosystem and economic modelling.
Figure 2: Sources of land converted to energy-only crops and GHG contributions.
Figure 3: Land allocation of perennial grasses and corn stover for the biofuel policy scenarios.
Figure 4: Total US 2022 projected GHG balance estimates for each scenario.


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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.

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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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Evan H. DeLucia.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Hudiburg, T., Wang, W., Khanna, M. et al. Impacts of a 32-billion-gallon bioenergy landscape on land and fossil fuel use in the US. Nat Energy 1, 15005 (2016).

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