The researchers then expanded their sights to marginal grassland. A class of biofuel crops called low-impact high-diversity (LIHD) perennial grasses could produce bioenergy while maintaining grassland. While they have a lower ethanol yield than grasses such as miscanthus or switchgrass, LIHD grasses have minimal environmental impact and are similar to grassland's natural land cover.
Adding LIHD crops grown on marginal grassland to the marginal cropland estimate from earlier scenarios nearly doubled the estimated land area to 1,107 million hectares globally, even after subtracting possible pasture land an area that would produce 26 to 56 percent of the world's current liquid fuel consumption.
Next, the team plans to study the possible effect of climate change on land use and availability.
"Based on the historical data, we now have an estimation for current land use, but climate may change in the near future as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which will have effect on the land availability," said graduate student Xiao Zhang, a co-author of the paper. Former postdoctoral fellow Dingbao Wang, now at the University of Central Florida, also co-wrote the paper.
"We hope this will provide a physical basis for future research," Cai said. "For example, agricultural economists could use the dataset to do some research with the impact of institutions, community acceptance and so on, or some impact on the market. We want to provide a start so others can use our research data."
|Contact: Liz Ahlberg|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign