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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Landscape and Watershed Processes

A Novel Framework to Classify Marginal Land for Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Production


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 40 No. 5, p. 1593-1600
    Received: Dec 21, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): ggopalakrishnan@anl.gov
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  1. Gayathri Gopalakrishnan *,
  2. M. Cristina Negri and
  3. Seth W. Snyder
  1. Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Lab., 9700 S. Cass Ave., Argonne, IL 60439. Assigned to Associate Editor Minghua Zhang


To achieve food and energy security, sustainable bioenergy has become an important goal for many countries. The use of marginal lands to produce energy crops is one strategy for achieving this goal, but what is marginal land? Current definitions generally focus on a single criterion, primarily agroeconomic profitability. Herein, we present a framework that incorporates multiple criteria including profitability of current land use, soil health indicators (erosion, flooding, drainage, or high slopes), and environmental degradation resulting from contamination of surface water or groundwater resources. We tested this framework for classifying marginal land in the state of Nebraska and estimated the potential for using marginal land to produce biofuel crops. Our results indicate that approximately 1.6 million ha, or 4 million acres, of land (∼8% of total land area) could be classified as marginal on the basis of at least two criteria. Second-generation lignocellulosic bioenergy crops such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus), native prairie grasses, and short-rotation woody crops could be grown on this land in redesigned landscapes that meet energy and environmental needs, without significant impacts on food or feed production. Calculating tradeoffs between the economics of redesigned landscapes and current practices at the field scale is the next step for determining functional designs for integrating biofuel feedstock production into current land management practices.

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Copyright © 2011. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.