Across the globe, hundreds of millions of acres of once-productive agricultural land lie abandoned, according to a new report from researchers at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. If this land was used to grow crops for conversion into biofuel, it could help ease the energy crunch without worsening the world food shortage or contributing to global warming.
Critics blame biofuel production for contributing to recent global food shortages, which have spawned riots. Although much of the current supply of biofuels comes from crops that could be used for food, biofuels need not be a villain taking food from the mouths of the hungry, the researchers say. Neither, however, are biofuels likely to be the magic bullet that slays the dinosaur of our dependence on fossil fuels.
"Our results showed that if you used all these abandoned agricultural lands, you might obtain up to 8 percent of current energy needs," said Elliott Campbell, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at Stanford University and lead author of the report scheduled to be published June 25 in the online edition of Environmental Science and Technology. "So this result is basically showing us that biofuels could be a meaningful, but a small portion of our total energy future."
Perhaps the biggest limiting factor with biofuel production is finding land to grow the biomass needed to produce the energy. Taking cropland out of food production clearly is not a good long-term answer. Nor is clearing forestland.
"Basically, what happens when you cut down forest is that all the carbon that was stored in those trees is released to the atmosphere," said Chris Field, a professor of biology and environmental earth system science at Stanford and a co-author of the paper. "If you put biomass energy in locations that previously had agriculture but don't now, you can avoid those problems."
Between 1- and 1.2-billion acres of abandoned agricultural la
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|