A team of researchers from Michigan State University is saying that “marginal lands”—lots that are not suitable for crops—are excellent for use in the energy production sector, especially biofuel. In a recent issue of the Nature, the MSU researchers point to the possibility of tapping into these unused locales for sustaining mixed species biomass and plants, which can contribute up to 5.5 billion gallons of ethanol in the Midwest alone.
“We estimate that using marginal lands for growing cellulosic biomass crops could provide up to 215 gallons of ethanol per acre with substantial greenhouse gas mitigation,” says Illya Gelfand, lead author and an MSU postdoctoral researcher.
Researchers used 20 years’ worth of data from MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station LTER Site to gain insight into the possible yield of biofuel as well as well as the greenhouse gas impacts that the operations may have on the environment. With the aid of a supercomputer, the researchers were able to identify a model that revealed approximately the amount of biomass production necessary to support a 24 million gallons/year biorefinery. In total, the Midwest can contribute to about 25% of the cellulosic biofuels target set by Congress.
“This study shows that these lands could make a major contribution to transportation energy needs while providing substantial climate and—if managed properly—conservation benefits,” says Phil Robertson, co-author and MSU professor.
(A hearty portion of corn at the dinner table can produce a good amount of gas)
If managed correctly, the use of marginal lands to produce biofuel can have a huge impact on not only the conservation of the earth’s natural resources, but also the sustainability and growth of the human population.
According to PNNL soil scientist and University of Maryland professor Cesar Izaurralde, if the biofuel operations are carried out correctly, “these marginal lands can be made productive for bioenergy production and, in doing so, contribute to avoid the conflict between food and fuel production.”