Strategies for growing biomass for fuel can have ecological and environmental benefits.
In efforts to curb our use of greenhouse gas-generating fossil fuels, plant-based biofuels are among the top contenders as alternative liquid energy sources for transportation. However, strategies to produce high yields of biomass for fuels are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, according to a study led by UC Santa Barbara professor of ecology David Tilman.
“It is difficult to make a biofuel that actually has environmental benefits,” said Tilman, a faculty member in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, and co-author of a paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability. “When a food crop is used to make a biofuel, this, in essence, takes food away from poor people around the world, and, it turns out, offers little, if any, greenhouse gas reductions.”
Whereas conventional production of biofuels has largely used food crops such as corn, soybeans, oil palm and sugarcane, these practices have their pitfalls, such as intensive use of nitrogen fertilizers, and competition for fertile croplands that had been growing food. "Nitrogen fertilizer is a two-edged sword," Tilman said. "It gives us higher yields, but it also releases lots of greenhouse gas and can pollute our well waters and rivers, lakes and oceans."
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