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Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Nov 15;44(22):8665-9. doi: 10.1021/es100681g. Epub 2010 Sep 30.

Land-use and alternative bioenergy pathways for waste biomass.

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  • 1School of Engineering, University of California, Merced, CA, USA.


Rapid escalation in biofuels consumption may lead to a trade regime that favors exports of food-based biofuels from tropical developing countries to developed countries. There is growing interest in mitigating the land-use impacts of these potential biofuels exports by converting biorefinery waste streams into cellulosic ethanol, potentially reducing the amount of land needed to meet production goals. This increased land-use efficiency for ethanol production may lower the land-use greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol but would come at the expense of converting the wastes into bioelectricity which may offset fossil fuel-based electricity and could provide a vital source of domestic electricity in developing countries. Here we compare these alternative uses of wastes with respect to environmental and energy security outcomes considering a range of electricity production efficiencies, ethanol yields, land-use scenarios, and energy offset assumptions. For a given amount of waste biomass, we found that using bioelectricity production to offset natural gas achieves 58% greater greenhouse gas reductions than using cellulosic ethanol to offset gasoline but similar emissions when cellulosic ethanol is used to offset the need for more sugar cane ethanol. If bioelectricity offsets low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear power then the liquid fuels pathway is preferred. Exports of cellulosic ethanol may have a small impact on the energy security of importing nations while bioelectricity production may have relatively large impacts on the energy security in developing countries.

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