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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ADVANCING SUSTAINABLE AND RESILIENT CROPPING SYSTEMS FOR THE SHORT GROWING SEASONS AND COLD, WET SOILS OF THE UPPER MIDWEST

Location: Soil Management Research

Title: Sustainable production of grain crops for biofuels

Author
item Jaradat, Abdullah

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: January 9, 2013
Publication Date: November 1, 2013
Citation: Jaradat, A.A. 2013. Sustainable production of grain crops for biofuels. In: Singh, B.P., editor. Biofuel Crop Sustainability. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 31-52.

Interpretive Summary: Cereal crops, which are grown for their edible, starchy seeds, are used around the world for human food, animal feed and, most recently, for the production of liquid biofuels. They include barley, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum and wheat. Using grain crops for non-food uses, including animal feed, seed, bioenergy, and other industrial products, affects the amount of food available to the world. Liquid biofuels made from grain crops are expected to dominate and remain significant until 2030. After which, biofuels from most sustainable crops will remain important. Then only a few highly sustainable crops will remain in use between 2040 and 2050. Large-scale crop plantations for biofuels pose both opportunities and challenges. They will inevitably compete with food production for land, water, nutrient resources and other inputs. The extent to which liquid biofuels made from grain crops can mitigate climate change depends on their greenhouse gas intensity relative to the liquid fossil fuels they displace. However, the largest environmental impact of biofuel production will probably come from market-driven, land-use change. This review provides information to researchers, students, farmers, crop consultants, and entrepreneurs on the global demand for food and bioenergy and allocation of grain crops for food or biofuel. Also, it provides answers to questions on how to improve grain crops for higher biofuel production and what research is needed to develop advanced biofuel grain crops.

Technical Abstract: Grain crops of the Gramineae are grown for their edible, starchy seeds. Their grain is used directly for human food, livestock feed, and as raw material for many industries, including biofuels. Using grain crops for non-food uses affects the amount of food available to the world. Grain-based biofuels are expected to dominate and remain significant until 2030. After which, biofuels from “most sustainable” crops will remain important. Then they will be limited to specific crops with “high sustainability” factors between 2040 and 2050. Large-scale crop plantations for biofuels pose both opportunities and challenges, and will inevitably compete with food production for land, water, nutrient resources and other inputs. The extent to which grain-based biofuels can mitigate climate change depends on their greenhouse gas intensity relative to the liquid fossil fuels they displace. However, the largest environmental impact of biofuel production may well come from market-mediated, land-use change. In spite of recent calls for the grain-based biofuels to be phased out and replaced by dedicated second-generation biofuel crops with multiple environmental benefits, the key incentives widely adopted to advance production and increase consumption of grain-based biofuels are still in place. Future intensification of grain-based biofuel production will require more attention to the efficiency of inputs and their environmental cost. More efficient use of chemical inputs, more sustainable alternatives, and breeding for efficiency will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit yield, as well as reduce land use, indirect land-use change, and inputs that damage environmental health.

Last Modified: 8/29/2014
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