By Cameron Chai
A new study, published in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology journal, has shown that to meet the present biofuel production targets with current technology, approximately 80% of existing agricultural landscape in the U.S. needs to be used for growing corn for ethanol production. Another alternative solution would involve the conversion of 60% of current rangeland to biofuels.
W. Kolby Smith, along with his colleagues, has described the objective set by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). The aim is to boost the U.S. biofuel production from 40 billion gallons to 136 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2022. However, gaps exist in the capability to reach the biofuel production targets. These gaps are filled by the law, which estimates the availability and yield of farmland and technological advancements. To estimate more accurately, Smith and his team utilized satellite information on usable land, plant cover and climate. The data will be used to evaluate the amount of biofuel that can be produced in the U.S.
The satellite analysis has revealed that farmers will either need to cultivate biofuel crops on 60% of the land that are currently used for livestocks or grow biofuel crops on 80% of their farmlands to meet the EISA objective. The study shows that both the alternatives will considerably decrease the food quantity produced by farmers. In addition, it has revealed that increased farming activities can contaminate freshwater and speed up global climate change.