The allure of biofuels rests in their potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. That’s all well and good, but a team of researchers has discovered an entirely different way in which certain biofuel crops could help fight climate change. And while their research is preliminary, it does indicate a solution to the dilemma posed by biofuels: finding a way to make room on the planet for massive new biofuel croplands, without destroying large swaths of natural habitat.
Biofuel Crops and Climate Change
Edible biofuel crops have already fallen out of favor and research is progressing into the use of weedy, non-edible crops and food production waste. The new study has take it up a level. The research team, from Arizona State University, Stanford, and Carnegie Institute for Science looked at the difference between growing perennial biofuel crops and annual crops. Through computer modeling, they found that perennial crops grown in the central U.S. region contributed more water to the atmosphere than annual crops, a process called evapotranspiration. The result was an average lower surface temperature during the growing season, by one degree Celsius – a significant difference in terms of climate modeling.
Sustainable Biofuel Crops
The results of the study offer a new perspective on growing biofuel crops. For starters, it indicates that perennials may alleviate the strain on water resources posed by biofuel crops. It also indicates that perennials could be cultivated as part of a broader regional plan, one ambitious example being the “Great Green Wall of Africa” proposed to halt desert encroachment. Perennial biofuel croplands also offer more opportunities for combination with wildlife preservation. While the study focused on perennial grasses, other researchers are looking into the production of biofuels from poplars and other woody sources, which raises the potential for creating managed forests that serve biofuel production, habitat preservation and recreation, too.
Image: Miscanthus grass by jame343 on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.