Land availability for biofuels

The amount of biomass required to replace a significant proportion of the fossil fuel used in transport runs into millions of tonnes. Hence, a crucial question is that of biomass yield. Higher yields obviously enable a similar amount of biofuel to be replaced using less land. However, land use efficiency may also be improved by selecting an overall production chain that can use a high yielding biomass crop.

For instance most oils seed crops only produce a few tonnes per hectare per annum, sugar and starch crops may generate 5 to 10 tonnes, while significantly greater yields come from woody plants – or from conventional crops such as cereals if the straw can be used. Greater utilisation of such materials depends on the development of second generation biofuels.

Even when these higher yielding methods come to market, land availability still sets limits to what may be produced. Suggestions have been made for the movement of biomass or biomass derived fuels from the more productive regions to the more industrialised countries.

See also Indirect Land Use Change (iLUC)

Projects such as the Landscape Biomass Project Iowa State University look at how to balance needs for food, feed, fuel and energy, by integrating advanced biofuels technologies and novel energy crops.

Land use projects in Europe

The Volante Project (Vision of Land Use Transition in Europe) will provide an interdisciplinary scientific basis to inform land use and natural resource management policies and decision-making. It will achieve this by advancing knowledge in land system science and using this knowledge to develop a   Roadmap for future land rsource management in Europe and will design new methodologies and integrated models to analyse human environment interactions, feedbacks in land use systems, hotspots of land use transitions and identify critical thresholds in land system dynamics. The Roadmap will bring together this science-base with key players in research, policy, business and NGOs, and will be a significant European Science Policy Briefing for the years to come in the promotion of multifunctional and sustainable pathways of land system change.

Value of preserving biodiversity through mechanisms such as REDD Plus

In many potentially productive areas, preserving biodiversity may offer greater environmental and economic benefit than clearing forest to produce energy crops. Hence mechanisms need to be put into place to recognise the value of biodiversity These include the use of payments for ecosystem services, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and REDD-plus (which places a greater value on biodiversity rather than just the quantity of carbon held in the forest system).

An ILUC paper has also been produced. In the context of the discussion around indirect land use change for biofuels, the European Biofuels Technology Platform holds the view that there is an opportunity for the EU to signal its support to policies that further enhance the deployment of advanced biofuels.

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