Claim: Study confirms contribution of bioenergy to climate change mitigation

Across-border team of researchers refute arguments that carbon debt, opportunity cost and indirect land-use change prevent greenhouse gas mitigation by biofuels.

FUNDAÇÃO DE AMPARO À PESQUISA DO ESTADO DE SÃO PAULO

Research News

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IMAGE: A CROSS-BORDER TEAM OF RESEARCHERS REFUTE ARGUMENTS THAT CARBON DEBT, OPPORTUNITY COST AND INDIRECT LAND-USE CHANGE PREVENT GREENHOUSE GAS MITIGATION BY BIOFUELS. view more CREDIT: OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LAB

That biofuels can contribute to a cleaner global energy mix is widely accepted, but the net benefits of bioenergy in terms of mitigating greenhouse gases (GHG) are moot. Some argue, for example, that biofuels are not sustainable because the conversion of non-agricultural land to grow energy crops could lead to a significant initial decrease in carbon storage, creating what is known as a “biofuel carbon debt”.

A study by a cross-border group of researchers published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) could help refute this argument.

The study showed that the GHG mitigation potential of switchgrass cultivation for cellulosic ethanol production in the US was comparable on a per-hectare basis to that of reforestation and several times greater than that of grassland restoration. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a widely grown North American native grass proposed as biomass for the biobased economy.

More advanced technology and integration of carbon capture and storage (CCS) could further increase the per-hectare mitigation potential of bioenergy systems by a factor of six, according to the study, which was supported by São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP via a project led by John J. Sheehan.

Sheehan is affiliated with the University of Minnesota in the US and is currently a visiting fellow at the University of Campinas’s School of Agricultural Engineering (FEAGRI-UNICAMP) in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, under the aegis of the (São Paulo Excellence Chair (SPEC).

Co-lead author of the study, Lee R. Lynd, a professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (USA), began a project in February at UNICAMP’s Center for Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering (CBMEG), with funding from FAPESP under the SPEC program.

“The study highlights in detail the factors and strategies that are important to the implementation of biofuel production in a way that helps stabilize the climate,” Lynd told.

Questions answered

According to the authors, critics of bioenergy question whether feedstock crops can be sustainably sourced without causing self-defeating reductions in ecosystem carbon storage.

Besides the “carbon debt” resulting from the conversion of non-agricultural land into energy crop plantations, the use of existing productive agricultural land with low carbon stocks can also be counterproductive if food production is displaced and GHG emissions increase elsewhere.

This effect, known as indirect land-use change, can be minimized or avoided by growing biofuel feedstocks on low-yield or abandoned cropland, or land spared from continued agricultural use through future agricultural intensification or changes in diet.

Reforestation offers an alternative use of such land for GHG mitigation. However, it is often claimed that assessment of bioenergy production in these areas should consider their “opportunity cost”, i.e. the carbon sequestration foregone when land is used for feedstock production instead of reforestation.

“The main studies published to date suggest zero net land-use change, but indirect land-use change continues to be invoked as a key criticism of biofuels,” Lynd said.

These arguments were initially directed at first-generation biofuels – obtained from sugar, starch or vegetable oil in food crops grown on farmland – but questions focusing on carbon debt, indirect land-use change, and opportunity cost have since been raised regarding the production of cellulosic biomass for use in advanced biofuel production or electricity generation.

Based on these and other arguments, recent studies suggest that using land to produce bioenergy feedstocks has a less-than-ideal impact in terms of mitigating the climate crisis, and recommend research and policy be refocused toward land-based biological carbon management.

However, those studies are often based on secondary estimates of bioenergy system performance and mitigation opportunity costs. Furthermore, they generally exclude consideration of CCS or future technology improvements, the authors note.

“Each of the critiques we discuss in the study has some legitimacy in terms of pointing to factors that can cancel out the beneficial impact of biofuels on the climate, but they shouldn’t be taken as proof that biofuels can’t or don’t have any beneficial impact at all,” Lynd said.

To refute the arguments presented by critics of biofuel sustainability, the researchers used ecosystem simulation combined with models of cellulosic biofuel production and CCS, estimating the potential of biofuel from energy grass to replace fossil fuels and sequester carbon directly compared with other land-based mitigation schemes, such as reforestation and grassland restoration.

They calibrated the ecosystem model to perform temporally explicit simulations of atmosphere-biosphere carbon exchange under different land-use choices at three case study sites in the US.

The analysis showed that where farmers transitioned from switchgrass to cellulosic ethanol the per-hectare mitigation potential was comparable to that of reforestation and several times greater than that of grassland restoration.

It also showed that the mitigation potential of plausible future improvements in energy crop yields and biorefining technology, together with CCS, could be four times greater than that of reforestation and 15 times greater than that of grassland restoration.

“In addition, we found that natural land cover and the technological maturity of the supply chain make a significant difference when it comes to estimating the relative benefits of GHG mitigation by biofuels and restoration of natural vegetation,” Lynd said.

Switchgrass cultivation can be particularly useful in parts of the US where the natural plant cover consists of grass rather than trees, according to the study.

In future, the researchers plan to use the same modeling approach to discuss these issues for the US on a nationwide scale. “An important direction in which the study points is an analysis of a broader range of sites, energy crops, and conversion processes, including those designed to include biofuel production in a manner consistent with the circular economy,” Lynd said.

The methodology could also be used to analyze the production of biofuel from sugarcane in Brazil, he added.

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About São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a public institution with the mission of supporting scientific research in all fields of knowledge by awarding scholarships, fellowships and grants to investigators linked with higher education and research institutions in the State of São Paulo, Brazil. FAPESP is aware that the very best research can only be done by working with the best researchers internationally. Therefore, it has established partnerships with funding agencies, higher education, private companies, and research organizations in other countries known for the quality of their research and has been encouraging scientists funded by its grants to further develop their international collaboration. You can learn more about FAPESP at http://www.fapesp.br/en and visit FAPESP news agency at http://www.agencia.fapesp.br/en to keep updated with the latest scientific breakthroughs FAPESP helps achieve through its many programs, awards and research centers. You may also subscribe to FAPESP news agency at http://agencia.fapesp.br/subscribe.

From EurekAlert!

52 thoughts on “Claim: Study confirms contribution of bioenergy to climate change mitigation

  1. There is a range of biofuel…

    In the UK the waste from distilleries and breweries is now routinely used via anaerobic digestion to provide those installations with both heat and power, diverting waste from landfill. can’t argue with that, surely?

    Some UK animal feed produces biofuel as a byproduct (or the other way round). you can make biodiesel from fast food waste cooking fat/oil. (what else would you do with it?)

    Using waste from sawmills or wood from demolition is making the best of resources.

    There’s overproduction of animal waste from agriculture, which pollutes waterways. All those pig farms in the Carolinas which have fields just so they have somewhere to spray the pig excrement surely would be better off using it in anaerobic digesters? you do have to mix in some silage type crop – slight downside.

    US corn ethanol? what started as a way to reduce reliance on imported oil products is now just a pork barrel boondoggle. Scrap it!

    shipping wood pellets from US forests to the UK? Not green at all. Stop it!

    • “US corn ethanol? Scrap it! shipping wood pellets from US forests to the UK? Not green at all. Stop it!”

      ‘Now we know, Griffo is his name
      He has found the way of truth
      And darkness will never be
      the same’

    • The biofuel you are promoting is natural gas (methane) and I agree that waste methane is underutilized. However, in the U.S., through fracking, we produce more methane than we use.
      Methane is four hydrogen molecules and one carbon molecule. It burns efficiently in power plants without the need of scrubbers and ash lagoons.

      Anaerobic digestion makes methane the ultimate renewable that can meet our energy needs long into the future. We need more pipelines and storage capacity.

    • Teens could collect the oil in popped zits to make biodiesel. Collectively, quite a few tanks of fossil diesel could be displaced.

      • With free college, $50k student loan forgiveness and free housing as the incentive, alongside politically correct voting habits.

    • The thing that Griffypoo doesn’t comprehend is that any activity which has a sound, economic basis is fine and dandy. The very reason it gets done is, in fact, because it makes sense to, not because it is “saving the planet”, which is total nonsense. Ethanol got a huge push from the Climatists, a fact that Griffypoo likes to ignore, and is the reason it is still mandated today. Same with shipping wood pellets to the UK. And, the same thing with “green” energy, which Griffypoo loves to claim is a good thing.
      Griffypoo. If only he had a brain.

      • Ethanol got a push from those who wanted an energy independent USA. Once there was fracking, there was no need for it on that score. It is there today as a pork barrel subsidy

        Very many renewable energy projects make economic sense. for Example, Walmart isn’t putting in solar panels to save the planet: it is all about their bottom line

        • There you go again, griffypoo. Yes, we know how ethanol got started. The thing you want to ignore is the huge boost it got in the name of “climate change”.
          More ignorance on your part: Walmart puts in solar panels partly because of subsidies, and partly because of the greenwashing. The whole thing is a scam.
          The thing your tiny brain can’t comprehend is that anything which actually makes economic sense doesn’t need subsidies and mandates. It would be done anyway.

  2. Looks to me like an unnatural carbon cycle scheme. Plant grass, cut it down and process it into fuel, then burn it to produce more CO2, which other biofuel grass breathes in and then in turn gets cut-down. This is almost like a perpetual motion machine. One wonders how much the harvesting and converting to fuel costs compared to other high-energy-density fuels?

    • If you were serious about CO2 reduction, you would cut down the mature switchgrass and bury it. You could even grow and bury enough to offset the continued use of coal in the power station and save the transportation cost of switchgrass pellets. That would be if the numbers worked out, which they don’t……unless agricultural land and fertilizer and farm labor is free.

      • The issue is the way you greentards carry on you would think fossil fuels was the only source of CO2.

        Figure 7.3, IPCC AR4 shows the reality
        29 gigatons of CO2 for humans
        750 gigatons for natural sources

        The fact is if you really wanted to reduce emissions not use the process for some social justice and wealth redistribution garbage you would look at both human and natural emissions and pick off the easy stuff.

        The bottom line is greentards don’t want to reduce emissions they have an agenda.

          • Admit it you troll greentard you never even looked at the natural emissions … show me anything you actually read, quote it. You see you can either sink more or source less you are talking about a shift of a few percent on 750 sink and 750 source but you refuse to even look at the problem. You are a closed minded troll who won’t even look at the problem but happy to believe the green cool aide they force feed you.

          • First graph is a meaningless FABRICATION.. no resemblance to actually REALITY

            Specifically manipulated/created to support the AGW scam.

            1940s peak removed almost entirely.. more so at each “re-manipulation’

            But you knew that, didn’t you, Loy…

            Yes, we can be VERY THANKFUL there has been some small amount of NATURAL WARMING since the very coldest period in 10,000 years.

            You aren’t going off on that moronic CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL idiocy of yours again are you.

            You don’t REALLY think the LIA and 1970s levels of sea ice were actually NORMAL do you.

            Sorry, little ignorant climate denialist, but the LIA and late 1970s were anomalous EXTREME high levels of Arctic sea ice FAR above the Holocene norm, like they still are..

            Current levels are probably STILL in the top 5-10% of the last 10,000 years.

            And NONE of that small amount of highly beneficial warming can be scientifically linked to the also HIGHLY BENEFICIAL atmospheric CO2 increase except by the fact that warming causes CO2 release from the ocenas and land surface.

            You KNOW there is NO EVIDENCE of any warming by atmospheric CO2 , don’t you Loy !!

      • Decades and trillions of dollars spent globally and no results! Period! Nobody can claim to have reduced atmospheric CO2 and that is what they are claiming. Funny that you used the oceans for silly example since those largest of all carbon sinks is exactly what is the reason why there has been absolutely no effect from the silly efforts of silly humans to lower atmospheric CO2.

        Tell me how much must be spent to amount to more than taking a piss in the ocean?

      • “You pissed in the ocean and nothing happened, huh!”

        That is the way with all wind and solar.

        It is nearly all just a waste of time and money, having no effect whatsoever over its lifetime, on the one thing it is meant to effect.. ie CO2 emissions.

        It should have remained a tiny niche market, and would have in the absence of massive subsidies and government mandates for usage etc.

  3. To refute the arguments presented by critics of biofuel sustainability, the researchers used ecosystem simulation combined with models …

    They calibrated the ecosystem model…

    In future, the researchers plan to use the same modeling approach…

    …could lead to…

    …could help refute this argument.

    could further increase…

    … could be four times greater…

    …could also be used to analyze…

    … can contribute…

    … can be sustainably…

    …can also be counterproductive…

    …can be minimized…

    …can cancel…

    Models and unsupported assertions.

  4. OFF TOPIC: I just ran across a YouTube video of Jennifer Marohasy being interviewed by Alan Jones of SkyNewsAustralia about the book ‘Climate Change: The Facts 2020’. Her interview begins about minute 2:25.

    Thanks, Jen!!!!!

    Regards,
    Bob

  5. The Cult of Climate, which is based on pseudoscience and divorced from reality can go through all the mental gymnastics they want to “explaining” how one branch of their cult follows the roolz of the Climate Cult or not, but in the end, it is all total nonsense. It is like Jim Jones “explaining” how one means of committing mass murder/suicide is better than another.

  6. Griff, nice try and, yes. ish

    1st and trivial (you do need to walk the walk) – the ‘waste’ from breweries is called People
    Stop drinking for 12 months and it will become Crystal Clear. That folks who drink even ‘moderate amounts’ recognise teetotallers – the suspicion, mistrust & fear in them is palpable
    Exactly why folks didn’t like Mr Trump.
    In any discussion, argument or ‘negotiation he would be in a different league. His very presence and body language intimidated them.
    Don’t take my word. Do The Science.
    Put down the glass bottle can etc and see what you see this time next year

    Why should animal feed producers create ‘waste’ WTF are they processing?
    Grazing animals go grazing primarily looking for sugar and *sugar* is the energy source for the ‘Biofuel’

    ‘Waste oil’
    Do as Henry Ford did in the Great Depression (in fact how soy came to widely grown), use the oil to make paint
    Or as Victorian entrepreneurs did, venture into the sewers, collect it up, clean it then sell it back to the households that dumped it.
    This was Saturated Fat of course.

    We should NOT be even eating vegetable fat (oil)
    It is riddled with (unstable) double bonds that cause it to either polymerise inside us (you know the stuff, that disgusting goo on deep fat fryers esp) or those bonds break releasing blizzards of free radicals – which have nothing else to but trash the DNA inside every one of our cells and set off cancers

    Waste from sawmills whatever should be either composted and used as soil conditioner OR precessed into animal bedding and thereafter returned to the soil

    In the great scheme of things there is NO overproduction of animal waste, If it appears like that it is just a local problem.
    Disperse the stuff more widely – BUT – it needs treating exactly as human waste is before it is applied to any land (It kills all the bugs, worms, beetles, soil critters and vast numbers of otherwise friendly bacteria otherwise.

    Silage is mixed to excrement to increase its energy content.
    As I said, animals are looking for sugar (starch) which exactly what they remove from what they eat – before excreting it. The sugar/starch energy content of animal poo is zero

    Wea re in agreement perfectly with corn – either for ethanol or, as my home is surrounded by, fields of corn destined for digesters.
    My house, home, garden and outbuildings is riddled with rats
    I see them but I know they are after the corn – the selectively steal the corn bits from the food mixture I put out for the wild birds

    Switchgrass is another Jatropha, Miscanthus, willow whatever what ever.
    You CAN NOT keep growing the same plants on the same piece of ground over and over and over.
    Sooner/later a Liebig Limiter will be found and the system will crash

    Are you really sure you want to engineer a bug, bacteria virus fungus that can rapidly digest cellulose or lignin.
    If that fooker escapes from it lab, factory digester wherever, it will be The Perfect Doomsday Weapon

    Its really looking like are going to do something SO DUMB as to exterminate ourselves *and* Life on Earth
    All on a Scientific Theory that makes Emperor’s New Clothes look perfectly sensible/reasonable

  7. ”implementation of biofuel production in a way that helps stabilize the climate,” Lynd told.”

    “Stabilize the climate.”….with cellulosic ethanol use… Sheesh. What a dope.
    Just more mumbo-jumbo climate voodoo junk science selling snakeoil cures. The sad part is Lynd probably believes that crap science claim.

    • From dictionary.com
      Mumbo-Jumbo:
      – meaningless incantation or ritual.
      – senseless or pretentious language, usually designed to obscure an issue, confuse a listener, or the like.
      – an object of superstitious awe or reverence.
      – (With initial capital letters) the guardian of western Sudan villages symbolized by a masked man who combats evil and punishes women for breaches of tribal laws.
      – Mumbo jumbo may come from maamajomboo, the Mandinka (a West African language) word for a masked male dancer who was involved in some arcane rituals.

      Climate Mumbo-Jumbo, aka saying “stabilize the climate” while trying to sell some snake oil remedy.

  8. In 2012, the German National Academy of Sciences came out against biofuels. link Here is a point I had not considered before.

    Limited phosphate reserves. Intensive agriculture will not be able to continue and therefore crops produced will eventually decline, not increase to provide more biofuel.

    Until I read that report it hadn’t occurred to me that forest fertilization was a thing and that we might have to worry about the supply of phosphates.

    Once you consider everything including soil depletion, biofuels have a low Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI). Once the EROEI drops below 7, there isn’t enough energy left to power society. link

    There are papers that give amazingly good EROEI figures for biomass but they make naive assumptions and do not consider most of the costs involved in actually getting energy to market.

  9. For once I agree with all your comments Griff! Keep up the good work.
    You will rant on a skeptic soapbox yet. I have high hopes for you

  10. WORLD AND US TOTAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/world-total-energy-consumption

    Upstream energy: Measured as a percent of primary energy, because it takes primary energy to obtain the source energy.

    Some energy sources require very high upstream energy and have high upstream CO2.
    Almost all energy and CO2 analyses ignore upstream energy.
    As a result, they understate CO2 emissions.
    Here are some high upstream energy sources with high upstream CO2:

    – Natural gas, primarily from fracking, about 17% of the combustion CO2 needs to be added
    – Pure gasoline from petroleum about 25% of the combustion CO2 needs to be added
    – Pure diesel from petroleum about 27% of the combustion CO2 needs to be added
    – Pure biodiesel from soy oil about 43% of the combustion CO2 needs to be added
    – Pure ethanol-from-corn about 106.6% of the combustion CO2 needs to be added

    https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=41093
    https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/source-energy-and-primary-energy

  11. I had to read a bunch of drivel about CO2 and models and climate change and carbon economy??I think this site exists to test the water for the next effed-up nonsense they want to try for a mental fit.
    Not one single climate scientist can prove one single aspect of their catastrophic drivel.
    Come to where I live, I will show you many, many hungry people. Thousands were starved during the 3-month covert-1984 plandemic lockdown, where no-one worked, we could not even buy tracksuits or fridges, they were not “essential”. Coca Cola, apparently, is.
    Now, my question is this:
    In that whole shitheap of climate terror and sciencery* hogwash, not one mention that the GMO crops used for “biofuel” are so corrupted, Monsatano admits they are not fit for even animal consumption. So, you take agricultural land, poison it to submission, plant your poisonous GMO drek nobody can eat, and that saves the frigging world? From overpopulation, I’m sure.
    *Sciencery:n/v/adj. The ability of discretionary funding can magic up any proof you pay for; the ability to make any product or service walk on a heavnly cloud of scienciness.

  12. 1. There is no climate crisis. The climate change that we have been experiencing is very small and is caused by the sun and the oceans over which mankind has no control.
    2. There is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate and there is plenty of scientific rationale that the climate sensitivity of CO2 is zero. We do not know what the optimum climate is let alone how to obtain it. But even if we could somehow stop the Earth’s climate from changing, extreme weather events and sea level rise would continue unabated because they are part of the current climate.
    3. For those who believe in the radiametric greenhouse effect, the primary greenhouse gas is H2O and not CO2. Molecule per molecule, H2O is a stronger H2O absorber than CO2 and on average there is roughly 50 times more H2O in the atmosphere than is CO2. The producers of biofuels are doing nothing to reduce H2O emissions. Their slight reduction in CO2 emissions over a very long time span cannot possible have any effect on the overall radiant greenhouse effect if it exists and hence no effect on climate.
    4. The AGW conjecture depends upon the existence of a radiant greenhouse effect in the Earth’s atmosphere caused by trace gases with LWIR absorption bands. Such a radiant greenhouse effect has not been observed in a real greenhouse, in the Earth’s atmosphere, or anywhere else in the solar system. The radiant greenhouse effect is nothing but science fiction so hence the AGW conjecture is nothing but science fiction as well. The idea that burning biofuels will save the Earth’s climate is also science fiction.
    5. So by burning wood in Denmark, the Earth’s climate has been saved so no one need worry about climate change any more. The IPCC should hence be disbanded. Thank you Denmark. Bio fuel production is not required to stabilize the Earth’s climate. Leaving as much land as possible in a natural state is good for the biodiversity of the planet.

  13. The whole biofuels discussion is a side show, a false hope. These “scientists” or whoever write such drivel have apparently never sat down and done the math. Biofuels in any form (wood, crop residues, algae, switchgrass, corn, soy, etc. or all of the above) can provide no more than a small fraction of energy demand when one accounts for the full cost of production and distribution. Any inquisitive high school student asking the right questions, using basic math, a spreadsheet and the Internet, could figure out in a few hours that if we planted 100% of the arable land in biofuel crops, it would not even supply more than a small fraction of our transportation fuels. Of course it makes sense to reuse waste and residues in a productive way, but societal-scale biofuel production falls FAR short of the snake-oil promises of the ivory tower and special-interest promoters. Furthermore, massively increasing biofuel production would have devastating effects on biodiversity, ecosystem health, stream water quality, threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, etc.

    Academics are sucking at the teat of government grants, and trade groups (e.g., corn farmers; forest products companies) are enjoying high prices and demand for their crops being paid by idiot city dwellers who have been lied to.

    Loydo and Griff, open your minds and your spreadsheets and do the math yourselves. If you think you find otherwise, show your work so that your fellow WUWT travelers can check your work. No? Just as I thought.

  14. Africa uses large amounts of biomass, no? There is wood burning and dung burning ….what’s the problem?…it’s not CO2……could it be the smoke and who knows what chemical compounds?…maybe microscopic air pollution too. There is one unique location in Africa where a lake produces large amounts of methane and it is collected to power an electric generating plant. The future is MSRs powered by thorium.

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