Marginal Lands: A Valuable Resource for Sustainable Bioenergy Production


Growing plants on marginal lands, or lands unsuitable for conventional agricultural crops, is a promising route towards attaining sufficient cellulosic biomass for the production of biofuels without compromising food crops. However, both the availability of such lands as well as the potential environmental impacts (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions) resulting from widespread biofuel crop production remain uncertain. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) report results from the first assessment of the total biomass potential of these lands, including an estimate of greenhouse gas benefits and the productivity potential of unmanaged lands. Using 20 years of data from 10 Midwest states, the researchers compared both productivity and greenhouse gas impacts of several potential biofuel feedstocks, including corn, poplar, alfalfa, and old field vegetation, and then used supercomputers to model the biomass production required to support local biorefineries. The assessment shows that if properly managed, marginal lands could provide sufficient biomass to support a viable cellulosic biofuel production industry while benefiting conservation efforts and the environment.


Gelfand, I., R. Sahajpal, X. Zhang, R. C. Izaurralde, K. L. Gross, and G. P. Robertson. 2013. “Sustainable Bioenergy Production from Marginal Lands in the
U. S. Midwest,” Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11811.