Ag Policy Blog

Getting Biofuels from Marginal Ground

By Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor

A new study in Nature magazine examines the potential for growing cellulosic crops on marginal lands in Midwestern states while mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions.

According to the study, about 27 million acres of marginal crop, pasture or grasslands in the Midwest could produce more than 5.5 billion gallons of ethanol per year, or approximately 25% of the 2022 target for cellulosic biofuels mandated under the Security Independence and Security Act of 2007.

"Understanding the environmental impact of widespread biofuel production is a major unanswered question both in the U.S. and worldwide," said Ilya Gelfand, lead author and MSU postdoctoral researcher. “We estimate that using marginal lands for growing cellulosic biomass crops could provide up to 215 gallons of ethanol per acre with substantial greenhouse gas mitigation.”

In doing so, that cellulosic ethanol would create new revenue sources for farmers, no carbon debt or indirect land-use costs associated with corn-based ethanol. A news release on a Michigan State University website states the study placed a lot of emphasis on conservation benefits and importance of mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions.

“With conservation in mind, these marginal lands can be made productive for bioenergy production and, in so doing, contribute to avoid the conflict between food and fuel production,” said Cesar Izaurralde, PNNL soil scientist and University of Maryland adjunct professor.

States examined in the study included Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The study was led by a team of researchers at Michigan State University. More information can be found at http://msutoday.msu.edu/…

A link to a National Public Radio story on the study: http://dld.bz/…

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

Comments

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Ric Ohge 1/23/2013 | 2:01 PM CST
Bonny, I HAVE my Pooping Permit, but there are still noses wanting to weigh in every time I exercise my legal right. **sigh**
Lon Truly 1/18/2013 | 7:26 AM CST
If all USA crop acres were grown to corn for ethanol the ethanol extremists would still be claiming that food prices are unaffected. I guess the recent doubling or tripling of food prices is still not providing enough income for the greediest producers among us. Yet these same people make the same absurd claim that diverting 40% of the corn acreage to ethanol production is not affecting food prices.
Jay Mcginnis 1/18/2013 | 7:05 AM CST
Ethanol is a program started under Pres. Bush as a way of dealing with the energy problem and at the same time help farmers. Farmers have really benefitted from it but the energy issue is still there as well as a confused ethanol infrastructure. What no one here has addressed is where the 10% of gasoline it has replaced will now come from and what will that do to oil market that still have $90-$100/barrel price tag? Tar sands, deep water oil drilling and frack oil/gas have a huge environmental price tag as well and these "unconventional" energy sources need high oil prices for a profit. Unconventional oil and ethanol are both signs of a world desperate to keep "business as usual" at any costs! Welcome to the world of diminishing returns!
Paul Beiser 1/18/2013 | 4:36 AM CST
wasn't ethanol sold to americans as a "clean" energy? If its so bad, why arent politicians making it illegal? lastly, Mr smarty pants left out the economics of ddgs.
Bonnie Dukowitz 1/17/2013 | 5:47 PM CST
Good grief, Pasture and grassland. I guess hamburger and lamb chops will be a thing of the past so we can ride around the country, sticking our noses in everybody elses business. Just in case they are a-poopin without a permit.