Environmental, Social & Economic Impacts projects

The Impact of Global Trade in Biofuels on Water Scarcity and Food Security in the World - Completed

In this project, the research team assessed land available for biofuel crop production in the world and analyzed policies dealing with biofuel vs. food. The group used a global food-energy market modeling approach to examine how food production, demand, trade and water availability will be impacted by biofuel production. The existing model and a global water management model were extended to incorporate biofuel crops. The group developed a holistic food-energy-resources modeling framework to analyze the environmental and social benefits and costs of bioenergy development in the global market.

project Highlights

2010 Highlights

Marginal cropland with cellulosic biofuel crops and grassland with low-input/high-diversity (LIHD) prairies may fulfill the world’s biofuel demand without compromising conventional cropland and pasture land but might not mitigate environmental impacts. Moreover, tremendous engineering infrastructural development will be needed in land-rich regions such as Africa and South America, where regional water supplies will be an issue.  We conclude that combining proper land development and some yield-boosting inputs might mitigate negative environmental impacts that could result, such as GHG emission.

2009 Highlights

Marginal agricultural land is estimated for bioenergy production in Africa, Brazil, China, Europe, India, South America (excluding Brazil), and the continental United States: these countries/regions have 256 to 463 mha of land available if only considering abandoned and/or degraded cropland. If grassland, savanna and shrubland with marginal productivity are considered for low-input high diversity (LIHD) prairie grasses as energy crops, the land availability can increase to 1,343 mha. The marginal cropland and grassland can fulfill 23% to 47% of the current world liquid fuel consumption by planting the second generation of biofuel feedstocks on abandoned or degraded cropland and LIHD prairie grasses on the grassland. We also found that the impact of biofuel development on food production depends on the biophysical limits of land, as well as the amount of land available. We completed the modeling analysis for the first generation of biofuel crops and concluded that it is most likely to cause social and environmental problems around the world.




Published in 2011

Land Availability for Biofuel Production, Ximing Cai, Xiao Zhang, Dingbao Wang, Environmental Science and Technology, 45(1), pps. 334-339, January 2011.

Published in 2010

Modeling Miscanthus in the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to Simulate Its Water Quality Effects as a Bioenergy Crop, Tze Ling Ng, J. Wayland Eheart, Ximing Cai, Fernando Miguez, Environmental Science and Technology, 44(18), pps. 7138-7144, August 3, 2010.



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