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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #233147

Title: The potential impacts of biomass feedstock production on water resource availability

item Stone, Kenneth - Ken
item Hunt, Patrick
item Cantrell, Keri
item Ro, Kyoung

Submitted to: Bioresource Technology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/14/2009
Publication Date: 1/29/2010
Citation: Stone, K.C., Hunt, P.G., Cantrell, K.B., Ro, K.S. 2010. The potential impacts of biomass feedstock production on water resource availability. Bioresource Technology. 101:2014-2025.

Interpretive Summary: High fuel costs have scientists looking for alternatives to oil. One alternative is bioenergy from waste materials and crops. Bioenergy has the added benefit of mitigating the effects of reducing greenhouse gases, which may affect climatic change. However, use of crops to provide significant amount of bioenergy involves new challenges for agriculture including management of water resources for both fuel and food. We reviewed and assessed potential bioenergy production based on its impact on water resources and the impact of water resources on bioenergy sustainability. Water is already a limited resource that is globally often over allocated. When bioenergy crops are being selected, planners must assess water availability as well as the potential bioenergy crop water use. Additionally, climate and weather will impact water along with the production and sustainability of bioenergy crops. Diversity in bioenergy crops is needed to lessen potential supply disruptions due to crop failures or weather-related events. Corn has been shown to be highly impacted by weather and water. However, improved crops, water management, recycled water, and new technologies for bioenergy conversion offer opportunities for sustainably producing bioenergy crops.

Technical Abstract: Biofuels are a major area of interest and technology development globally. Whereas bioenergy crop production is highly dependent on water, bioenergy development requires effective allocation and management of water. The objectives of this investigation were to assess the bioenergy production relative to the impacts of four water related factors: 1) water limitation; 2) climate and weather; 3) water use; and 4) water competition. Shifts to alternative bioenergy crops with greater water demand may produce unintended consequences for both water resources and energy feedstocks. Sugarcane and corn require 458 and 2036 m3 water/m3 ethanol produced, respectively. The water requirements for corn grain production to meet the US-DOE Billion-Ton Vision may increase 7-fold from 8.6 to 50.1 km3. Furthermore, climate change is impacting water resources throughout the world. In the western US, runoff from snowmelt is occurring earlier, altering the timing of water availability. Weather extremes, both drought and flooding, have occurred more frequently over the last 30 years than the previous 100 years. All of these weather events impact bioenergy crop production. These events may be partially mitigated by alternative water management systems that offer potential for more effective water use and conservation. These include controlled drainage and new generation livestock waste treatment systems. Controlled drainage can increase water available to plants and simultaneously improve water quality. New livestock waste treatments systems offer the potential to utilize treated wastewater to produce bioenergy crops. New technologies for cellulosic biomass conversion via thermochemical conversion offer the potential for using more diverse feedstocks with dramatically reduced water requirements.