The short version: biomass energy crops are a bad idea. Whether biomass crops displace food crops from existing farm land or the biomass crops get put on land newly converted to agriculture affects how much CO2 emissions the biomass crops add to the atmosphere.
MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—A report examining the impact of a global biofuels program on greenhouse gas emissions during the 21st century has found that carbon loss stemming from the displacement of food crops and pastures for biofuels crops may be twice as much as the CO2 emissions from land dedicated to biofuels production. The study, led by Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) senior scientist Jerry Melillo, also predicts that increased fertilizer use for biofuels production will cause nitrous oxide emissions (N2O) to become more important than carbon losses, in terms of warming potential, by the end of the century.
Using a global modeling system that links economic and biogeochemistry data, Melillo, MBL research associate David Kicklighter, and their colleagues examined the effects of direct and indirect land-use on greenhouse gas emissions as the production of biofuels increases over this century. They report their findings in the October 22 issue of Science Express.
Direct land-use emissions are generated from land committed solely to bioenergy production. Indirect land-use emissions occur when biofuels production on cropland or pasture displaces agricultural activity to another location, causing additional land-use changes and a net increase in carbon loss.
Especially in tropical areas the cutting down of forests to convert them into crop land releases huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Land area used for crops does not contain as much carbon in plant mass as it held when it was tropical rain forest. So these results are not surprising.
Melillo and his colleagues simulated two global land-use scenarios in the study. In Case 1, natural areas are converted to meet increased demand for biofuels production land. In Case 2, there is less willingness to convert land and existing managed land is used more intensely. Both scenarios are linked to a global climate policy that would control greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel sources to stabilize CO2 concentrations at 550 parts per million, a target often talked about in climate policy discussions. Under such a climate policy, fossil fuel use would become more expensive and the introduction of biofuels would accelerate, ultimately increasing the size of the biofuels industry and causing additional effects on land use, land prices, and food and forestry production and prices.
The model predicts that, in both scenarios, land devoted to biofuels will become greater than the total area currently devoted to crops by the end of the 21st century. Case 1 will result in more carbon loss than Case 2, especially at mid-century. In addition, indirect land use will be responsible for substantially greater carbon losses (up to twice as much) than direct land use.
As land gets shifted from crop production to energy production at the same time the human population grows by billions of people. A much smaller human population would create fewer problems for itself and for the environment since it would need less land.
Shift of land into use for biomass energy crops can contribute to warming rather than stopping it.
"Large greenhouse gas emissions from these indirect land-use changes are unintended consequences of a global biofuels program; consequences that add to the climate-change problem rather than helping to solve it," says Melillo "As our analysis shows, these unintended consequences are largest when the clearing of forests is involved."
When forests get converted to energy crops all the wild critters that lived in them lose their home and their food sources. So biomass energy has the potential to heat up the planet and destroy habitats in the name of the environment.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2009 October 22 11:57 PM Energy Biomass|