New Study Shows that Marginal Lands Could be Used for Biomass Production

Research by a team from Michigan State University suggests that growing crops on marginal land for production of biofuels could be a lot more worthwhile than was previously thought. Marginal lands are defined as those unsuitable for growing food crops, so their use would eliminate the problem of crops grown for biofuel production competing with food demand.

The study analysed the comparative productivity and greenhouse gas emissions of several biomass crops (those grown to be converted into biofuel) including corn, poplar, alfalfa and old field vegetation. Their study concluded that the ten Midwestern states they had focussed on could produce 5.5 billion gallons of ethanol per year, which amounts to about 25% of Congress’ 2002 cellulosic biofuels target. In addition, the study showed that grasses and other non-woody plants that grow wild on unmanaged land can be converted into ethanol efficiently enough to make production worthwhile.

According to Phil Robertson, co-author of the study, the findings suggest that crops grown on marginal lands “could make a major contribution to transportation energy needs while providing substantial climate and – if managed properly – conservation benefits.” This will be good news for the United States governments as it strives to meet renewable energy targets, and shows how the solution to our fossil fuel reliance could lie in taking small steps towards a more efficient and sustainable use of the resources and technologies we currently have.

About Elizabeth German

Lizzie is a third year undergraduate studying Chemistry at University College.