With the growing concern over farmland being used to produce crops that will be refined into biofuels instead of food, shortages of which are growing annually, researchers at the Carnegie Institute of Science have studied the potential for abandoned agricultural and pasture land to be used instead, and to see what that might mean for our bioenergy future. Since they estimate that there are 4.7 million square kilometers of such lands, the energy potential is enormous.
Their study, the Global Limits of Biomass Energy, sought to utilize satellite imagery, reports, productivity models and other data to estimate the amounts of energy that could be produced from these derelict plots of earth. Already, Brazil is fueling their vehicles with about 30% biofuel made from sugarcane - like what LGF plans to do in the US - but is such a thing really possible on a large scale in the US, or even worldwide? The answer seems to be both yes and no.
Some African countries, which use little fossil fuels and possess fertile grasslands, have the potential to produce nearly 37 times the amount of biomass energy than their current energy demands. The US, on the other hand, which has great potential to use abandoned lands since it has so much of it, in fact the most in the world, could only produce about 6% of national energy needs if 100% of the abandoned tracts were converted into producing biomass crops. Overall, about 8%, at best, of global energy demands could be met in this way.
So it is clear that biomass fuels are not the complete answer, but at least part of it. Hopefully it can supplement key industries or applications such as in the airlines, transport ships, and other highly polluting activities, leaving other renewables to power the balance.
written by The Food Monster, June 24, 2008
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