Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

New Fuels Biofuels: Meeting biofuel production targets could change agricultural landscape

May 29, 2012


Meeting biofuel production targets
could change agricultural landscape.
Credit: iStock.

Summary

Almost 80 percent of current farmland in the
U.S. would have to be devoted to raising corn
for ethanol production in order to meet
current biofuel production targets with
existing technology, a new study has found.
An alternative, according to a study in ACS’
journal Environmental Science & Technology,
would be to convert 60 percent of existing
rangeland to biofuels.

Today’s solution addresses the issue of how meeting current biofuel production targets could change the agricultural landscape. Almost 80 percent of current farmland in the U.S. would have to be devoted to raising corn for ethanol production in order to meet current biofuel production targets with existing technology, a new study has found. A report on this study appears in Environmental Science & Technology.

W. Kolby Smith, Ph.D. candidate, who is the lead author of the study and is at the University of Montana, explains.

“The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) set a goal of increasing U.S. biofuel production from 40 to 136 billion liters of ethanol per year by 2022.”

Smith says gaps exist in the ability to establish realistic targets for biofuel production.

“The law is filled with assumptions about technological developments and the availability and productivity of farmland. In an effort to establish more accurate estimates, we used satellite data about climate, plant cover and usable land to determine how much biofuel the U.S. could produce. The satellite analysis found that to meet the EISA goals under current technology, farmers would either need to plant biofuel crops on 80 percent of their farmed land or plant biofuel crops on 60 percent of the land currently used to raise livestock.”

The two options have major drawbacks, the study team concludes.

“Both approaches would significantly reduce the amount of food U.S. farmers produce. Research also shows that increased farming could lead to more polluted freshwater and accelerate global climate change.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

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W. Kolby Smith,
University of Montana