The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Ending The Food V. Fuel Debate: Researchers Define Surplus Land

Which is the better use for a plot of land: growing crops to feed nations or growing crops to power them with biofuel? The answer to this question is, perhaps not surprisingly, complex and turns on the definition of "surplus" land, or idle, marginal spaces. Now, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Europe and the US has decided to nail these concepts.

Despite the heated “food versus fuel” debates, researchers noted that there is no common language or guidelines that brings together this emerging field. Moreover, no one seemed to agree on what, exactly, defines surplus land.

For example, does the region already have more than enough food to feed its population? Do people living around the area support nuclear energy, or prefer wind or solar? How much gas will farmers have to use driving to and from those new plots? Are there any endangered or endemic species living there? What’s the soil type and the annual rainfall?

Confusion Is "Not Very Helpful"

“This is exactly what we stumbled over when reading the international literature about land availability for producing bioenergy crops – there is no clear-cut definition of surplus land,” says Jens Dauber, a landscape ecologist at the Thunen Institute in Germany and one authors of the paper in the journal BioRiskdiscussing the concept. “We thought it was worthwhile to have a look at what people understand when talking about surplus land.”

Combing through all of the published literature on the topic, Dauber and his colleagues encountered a plethora of terminology that seemingly all referred to different versions of the same thing, including marginal land, reclaimed land and degraded land.

This confusion “might not be very helpful” when it comes to making proper assessments of bioenergy potential for land plots, Dauber says, so he and his colleagues created detailed definitions of various types of surplus land; these are areas not currently used for agriculture due to unfavorable soil, climate or other factors.

Definition in hand, governments or individuals can identify the ideal places to grow biofuel plants and, from there, figure out which crops are best suited for plots of surplus land.

Most food crops, like corn and cereals, require pesticides, fertilizers and fossil fuels during steps in their production, making them ill suited for the surplus plots. Perennial crops like oilseed rape and switch grass, however, require fewer inputs necessary for them to thrive, and thus stand out as energy crops. Cultivated trees like poplars and willows could work as biofuel staples, too.

Creatively Utilizing Surplus Land

Once biofuel producers identify which crop or group of plants are the best match for the local landscape, they can brainstorm ways to creatively utilize surplus land to benefit not just energy production, but the environment, too.

Biofuel crops can be planted along the edges of farmers’ fields, for example, where they’ll make use of formerly wasted space and also trap crop runoff – a common pollutant – and prevent it from emptying into nearby streams and lakes. Mosaics of biofuel crops planted together would create better habitat for wildlife than the typical crop monocultures. And amidst the broader agricultural landscape, diverse biofuel plants may help create microclimates that mitigate climate change.

“We might get socioeconomic benefits and at the same time preserve biodiversity in these areas,” Dauber says.

Dauber and his colleagues point out that biofuels can couple with other green energy options and contribute to overall regional sustainability.

All told, a country, region or even company’s decision to convert a plot of land to biofuel crop production depends on individual tradeoffs between food availability, other alternative energy options, the environmental friendliness of an energy crop design and the project’s economic viability.

“We have to openly discuss all of these issues, but in the end this should be a decision by the people about what kind of energy they want for the future,” Dauber says. “Though, if we run out of fossil fuels, there’s not much of a choice anymore.”

This article was originally published on ecomagination and was republished with permission.

Lead image: The Lone Tree Courtesy/Flickr user Alex E. Proimos

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

States Already Seek To Delay Clean Power Plan

Andrew Harris, Bloomberg Fifteen states led by coal-rich West Virginia asked a federal court to stall Obama administration rules intended to c...

Campus Flora Fuels Research into Bioenergy-Inspired Energy Storage

Joe McCune, Missouri S&T Dr. Umit Koylu, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology,...

Sugarcane Bioethanol Project in Sierra Leone Underscores the Challenge of Producing Bionergy in the Developing World

Andrew Burger West Africa may be one of the most difficult and dangerous regions of the world in which to work, posing challenges t...

Unlikely Allies in North Carolina Clean-Energy Fight

Mark Drajem, Bloomberg With North Carolina’s renewable energy mandate under assault from Republican legislators, green groups seeking to sav...

PRESS RELEASES

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University recently completed a proj...

Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 Continues to (R)evolutionize at SPI

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) prepares to showcase its recently launched tracking syst...

Redesigned HydroWorld.com Video Gallery

Hydropower news and information, and interesting promotional announcements are now avai...

30 days to GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo

The Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) has announced that it is only 30 days to go to t...

FEATURED BLOGS

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

Activity supported with Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation funding BOONE—The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachia...

Discounted Room Rates for Geothermal Event end Friday

Discounted room rates for GRC Annual Meeting & GEA Geothermal Energy Expo end Friday Room rates for this prestigi...

3 Reasons To Follow-Up

It’s very important to begin nurturing your relationship with a customer immediately after the project you sold...

Who are the Solar Early Adopters? - the “Tipping Point” is Looming

We all know why people go solar: investment purposes, immediate savings, environmental concerns, and grid independenc...

FINANCIAL NEWS

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

2015 AREDAY Summit

The 12th Annual AREDAY Summit, August 8-13th in Snowmass Colorado. Engag...

StartUp Green

AREI, American Renewable Energy Institute, in partnership with ...

SAP for Utilities

SAP for Utilities is North America’s most comprehensive utilities ...

COMPANY BLOGS

New coating extends cylinder life 8 times longer than traditional c...

Hydroelectric turbine systems operate in extremely harsh conditions. The...

Clean Energy Patents Maintain High Levels in First Quarter, Solar L...

U.S. patents for Clean Energy technologies from the first quarter of 201...

SAP for Utilities Blog

The Eventful Group produces the annual SAP for Utilites Conference ...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS