Publication Type:Journal Article
Source:Global Change Biology – Bioenergy, Volume 9, Number 2, p.460-468 (2017)
Producing biofuel feedstocks on current agricultural land raises questions of a “food-vs-fuel” tradeoff. The use of current or former Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land offers an alternative; yet the volumes of ethanol that could be produced and the potential environmental impacts of such a policy are unclear. Here, we applied the Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) model to a U.S. Department of Agriculture database of over 200,000 CRP polygons in Iowa, USA, as a case study. We simulated yields and environmental impacts of growing three cellulosic biofuel feedstocks on CRP land: (i) an Alamo-variety switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.); (ii) a generalized mixture of C4 and C3 grasses; (iii) and no-till corn (Zea mays L.) with residue removal. We simulated yields, soil erosion, and soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks and fluxes. We found that although no-till corn with residue removal produced approximately 2.6-4.4 times more ethanol per area compared to switchgrass and the grass mixture, it also led to 3.9-4.5 times more erosion, 4.4-5.2 times more cumulative N loss, and a 10% reduction in total soil carbon as opposed to a 6-11% increase. Switchgrass resulted in the best environmental outcomes even when expressed on a per liter ethanol basis. Our results suggest planting no-till corn with residue removal should only be done on low slope soils to minimize environmental concerns. Overall, this analysis provides additional information to policy makers on the potential outcome and effects of producing biofuel feedstocks on current or former conservation lands. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.