Energy potential and greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy cropping systems on marginally productive cropland

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Abstract

2.1 INTRODUCTION Reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation fuels can result in near-and long-term climate benefits [1]. Biofuels are seen as a near-term solution to reduce GHG emissions, reduce U.S. petroleum import requirements, and diversify rural economies. Depending on feedstock source and management practices, greater reliance on biofuels may improve or worsen long-term sustainability of arable land. U.S. farmers have increased corn (Zea mays L.) production to meet growing biofuel demand through land expansion, improved management and genetics, increased corn plantings, or by increased continuous corn monocultures [2]-[4]. Productive cropland is finite, and corn expansion on marginally-productive cropland may lead to increased land degradation, including losses in biodiversity and other desirable ecosystem functions [4]-[6]. We define marginal cropland as fields whose crop yields are 25% below the regional average. The use of improved corn hybrids and management practices have increased U.S. grain yields by 50% since the early 1980’s [7] with an equivalent increase in non-grain biomass or stover yields. Corn stover availability and expected low feedstock costs make it a likely source for cellulosic biofuel. However, excessive corn stover removal can lead to increased soil erosion and decreased soil organic carbon (SOC) [8] which can negatively affect future grain yields and sustainability. Biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks (e.g. corn stover, dedicated perennial energy grasses) are expected to have lower GHG emissions than conventional gasoline or corn grain ethanol [9]-[13]. Furthermore, dedicated perennial bioenergy crop systems such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) have the ability to significantly increase SOC [14]-[16] while providing substantial biomass quantities for conversion into biofuels under proper management [17], [18].

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Schmer, M. R., Vogel, K. P., Varvel, G. E., Follett, R. F., Mitchell, R. B., & Jin, V. L. (2015). Energy potential and greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy cropping systems on marginally productive cropland. In Efficiency and Sustainability in Biofuel Production: Environmental and Land-Use Research (pp. 33–50). Apple Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0089501

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