Making use of marginal lands for biofuels production

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

The rapid expansion of biofuels industries in the early 2000s combined with the 2006-2008 world food crisis has focused global attention on agricultural lands and raised the question: is there enough land to both produce renewable biofuels and to meet food demands?  One promising solution is to grow perennial grasses as biofuels crops on “marginal” land—land unsuited for food crop production. Focusing on 7 states in the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB), a research team led by graduate student Qingyu Feng (Agricultural and Biological Engineering) used a computer model (the soil and water assessment tool model, SWAT) to estimate the potential for these marginal lands to produce biofuel crops and to evaluate the impacts of bioenergy crop production on the region’s water resources.

The study concluded that the UMRB area could produce up to 37% of the ~35 billion gallons of renewable transportation fuel per year mandated in the 2010 Energy Independence and Security Act. However, more research, field work in particular, is needed to better understand the impacts of these crops on the environment. The research team included colleagues at Purdue (professors Jeff Volenec, Agronomy; Indrajeet Chaubey and Bernie Engel, Agricultural and Biological Engineering), Penn State University, and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

Feng, Q., I. Chaubey, R. Cibin, B. Engel, K. P. Sudheer, J. Volenec and N. Omani (2018). Perennial biomass production from marginal land in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Land Degrad Dev, 29: 1748–1755.




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