The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 established specific targets for the production of biofuel in the United States. Until advanced technologies become commercially viable, meeting these targets will increase demand for traditional agricultural commodities used to produce ethanol, resulting in land-use, production, and price changes throughout the farm sector. This report summarizes the estimated effects of meeting the EISA targets for 2015 on regional agricultural production and the environment. Meeting EISA targets for ethanol production is estimated to expand U.S. cropped acreage by nearly 5 million acres by 2015, an increase of 1.6 percent over what would otherwise be expected. Much of the growth comes from corn acreage, which increases by 3.5 percent over baseline projections. Water quality and soil carbon will also be affected, in some cases by greater percentages than suggested by changes in the amount of cropped land. The economic and environmental implications of displacing a portion of corn ethanol production with ethanol produced from crop residues are also estimated.
This paper introduces a spatial bioeconomic model for study of potential cellulosic biomass supply at regional scale. By modeling the profitability of alternative crop production practices, it captures the opportunity cost of replacing current crops by cellulosic biomass crops. The model draws upon biophysical crop input-output coefficients, price and cost data, and spatial transportation costs in the context of profit maximization theory. Yields are simulated using temperature, precipitation and soil quality data with various commercial crops and potential new cellulosic biomass crops. Three types of alternative crop management scenarios are simulated by varying crop rotation, fertilization and tillage. The cost of transporting biomass to a specific demand location is obtained using road distances and bulk shipping costs from geographic information systems. The spatial mathematical programming model predicts the supply of biomass and implied environmental consequences for a landscape managed by representative, profit maximizing farmers. The model was applied and validated for simulation of cellulosic biomass supply in a 9-county region of southern Michigan. Results for 74 cropping systems simulated across 39 sub-watersheds show that crop residues are the first types of biomass to be supplied. Corn stover and wheat straw supply start at $21/Mg and $27/Mg delivered prices. Perennial bioenergy crops become profitable to produce when the delivered biomass price reaches $46/Mg for switchgrass, $118/Mg for grass mixes and $154/Mg for Miscanthus giganteus. The predicted effect of the USDA Biomass Conversion Assistance Program is to sharply reduce the minimum biomass price at which miscanthus would become profitable to supply. Compared to conventional crop production practices in the area, the EPIC-simulated environmental outcomes with crop residue removal include increased greenhouse gas emissions and reduced water quality through increased nutrient loss. By contrast, perennial cellulosic biomass crops reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved water quality compared to current commercial cropping systems.
This paper examines the impact of biofuel expansion on grain utilization and distribution at the state and cropping district level as most of grain producers and handlers are directly influenced by the local changes. We conducted a survey to understand the utilization and flows of corn, ethanol and its co-products, such as dried distillers grains (DDG) in Iowa. Results suggest that the rapidly expanding ethanol industry has a significant impact on corn utilization in Iowa. Comparing to the earlier survey results, ethanol plants drew a considerable amount of corn away from traditional destination markets, such as feeders or export markets. A major portion of corn supplies came from in-state sources, while the sales of Iowa ethanol and DDG were dominated by out-of-state buyers.
Transgenic modification of plants is a key enabling technology for developing sustainable biofeedstocks for biofuels production. Regulatory decisions and the wider acceptance and development of transgenic biofeedstock crops are considered from the context of science-based risk assessment. The risk assessment paradigm for transgenic biofeedstock crops is fundamentally no different from that of current generation transgenic crops, except that the focus of the assessment must consider the unique attributes of a given biofeedstock crop and its environmental release. For currently envisioned biofeedstock crops, particular emphasis in risk assessment will be given to characterization of altered metabolic profiles and their implications relative to non-target environmental effects and food safety; weediness and invasiveness when plants are modified for abiotic stress tolerance or are domesticated; and aggregate risk when plants are platforms for multi-product production. Robust risk assessments for transgenic biofeedstock crops are case-specific, initiated through problem formulation, and use tiered approaches for risk characterization.
The aim of this study is to show the impact of different assumptions and methodological choices on the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) performance of biofuels by providing the results for different key parameters on a consistent basis. These include co-products allocation or system expansion, N2O emissions from crop cultivation, conversion systems and co-product applications and direct land-use change emissions. The results show that the GHG performance of biofuels varies depending on the method applied and the system boundaries selected. Key factors include selected allocation procedures and the location of production and related yields, reference land and soil N2O emissions.
Soaring global food prices are threatening to push more poor people back below the poverty line; this will probably become aggravated by the serious challenge that increasing population and climate changes are posing for food security. There is growing evidence that human activities involving fossil fuel consumption and land use are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently changing the climate worldwide. The finite nature of fossil fuel reserves is causing concern about energy security and there is a growing interest in the use of renewable energy sources such as biofuels. There is growing concern regarding the fact that biofuels are currently produced from food crops, thereby leading to an undesirable competition for their use as food and feed. Nevertheless, biofuels can be produced from other feedstocks such as lingo-cellulose from perennial grasses, forestry and vegetable waste. Biofuel energy content should not be exceeded by that of the fossil fuel invested in its production to ensure that it is energetically sustainable; however, biofuels must also be economically competitive and environmentally acceptable. Climate change and biofuels are challenging FAO efforts aimed at eradicating hunger worldwide by the next decade. Given that current crops used in biofuel production have not been domesticated for this purpose, transgenic technology can offer an enormous contribution towards improving biofuel crops' environmental and economic performance. The present paper critically presents some relevant relationships between biofuels, food security and transgenic plant technology.
The water consumption and agrochemical use during biofuel production could adversely impact both availability and quality of a precious resource.
In this paper, we assess what is known or anticipated about environmental and sustainability factors associated with next-generation biofuels relative to the primary conventional biofuels (i.e., corn grain-based ethanol and soybean-based diesel) in the United States during feedstock production and conversion processes. Factors considered include greenhouse (GHG) emissions, air pollutant emissions, soil health and quality, water use and water quality, wastewater and solid waste streams, and biodiversity and land-use changes. Based on our review of the available literature, we find that the production of next-generation feedstocks in the U.S. (e.g., municipal solid waste, forest residues, dedicated energy crops, microalgae) are expected to fare better than corn-grain or soybean production on most of these factors, although the magnitude of these differences may vary significantly among feedstocks. Ethanol produced using a biochemical or thermochemical conversion platform is expected to result in fewer GHG and air pollutant emissions, but to have similar or potentially greater water demands and solid waste streams than conventional ethanol biorefineries in the U.S. However, these conversion-related differences are likely to be small, particularly relative to those associated with feedstock production. Modeling performed for illustrative purposes and to allow for standardized quantitative comparisons across feedstocks and conversion technologies generally confirms the findings from the literature. Despite current expectations, significant uncertainty remains regarding how well next-generation biofuels will fare on different environmental and sustainability factors when produced on a commercial scale in the U.S. Additional research is needed in several broad areas including quantifying impacts, designing standardized metrics and approaches, and developing decision-support tools to identify and quantify environmental trade-offs and ensure sustainable biofuels production.
There is a strong societal need to evaluate and understand the sustainability of biofuels, especially because of the significant increases in production mandated by many countries, including the United States. Sustainability will be a strong factor in the regulatory environment and investments in biofuels. Biomass feedstock production is an important contributor to environmental, social, and economic impacts from biofuels. This study presents a systems approach where the agricultural, energy, and environmental sectors are considered as components of a single system, and environmental liabilities are used as recoverable resources for biomass feedstock production. We focus on efficient use of land and water resources. We conducted a spatial analysis evaluating marginal land and degraded water resources to improve feedstock productivity with concomitant environmental restoration for the state of Nebraska. Results indicate that utilizing marginal land resources such as riparian and roadway buffer strips, brownfield sites, and marginal agricultural land could produce enough feedstocks to meet a maximum of 22% of the energy requirements of the state compared to the current supply of 2%. Degraded water resources such as nitrate-contaminated groundwater and wastewater were evaluated as sources of nutrients and water to improve feedstock productivity. Spatial overlap between degraded water and marginal land resources was found to be as high as 96% and could maintain sustainable feedstock production on marginal lands. Other benefits of implementing this strategy include feedstock intensification to decrease biomass transportation costs, restoration of contaminated water resources, and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
The rapidly expanding biofuel industry has changed the fundamentals of U.S. agricultural commodity markets. Increasing ethanol and biodiesel production has generated a fast-growing demand for corn and soybean products, which competes with the well-established domestic livestock industry and foreign buyers. Meanwhile, the co-products of biofuel production are replacing or displacing coarse grains and oilseed meal in feed rations for livestock. These developments in the agricultural and energy markets change the distribution of domestic grains and feeds and the utilization of shipping modes, which is likely affect the prices and basis of grains and other feedstocks in spatial markets.