Submitted to: Experiment Station Bulletins
Publication Type: Experiment Station
Publication Acceptance Date: January 11, 2011
Publication Date: May 15, 2011
Citation: Karlen, D.L. 2011. Unraveling water quality and quantity effects of biofuels production. In: Rudebusch, L., editor. Getting Into Soil & Water. Soil & Water 2011. Soil and Water Conservation Club. Iowa Water Center at Iowa State University. Ames, IA: Experiment Station Bulletins. p. 36-39. Technical Abstract: Developing a sustainable biofuels industry is crucial for several reasons, but what impact will it have on soil water quantity and quality? This popular press article for ISU alumni, teachers, middle/high school students and others is written to help them understand the complexity of this seemingly simple question. Important factors will be the type of feedstock grown and where it's grown. Will it be produced with or without supplemental irrigation water? Examples show that the amount of water used to grow the crop will be much greater than the amount needed to convert the material from plant biomass into ethanol or another potential biofuel. Undoubtedly, passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 requiring increased biofuel use in the U.S. raised many unanswered questions including the probable effects of biofuels on water quantity and quality. Currently, the most realistic answer to that question is “It Depends.” This article will hopefully provide readers with a much better understanding of how complex and difficult it is to answer this seemingly simple question.