Conference Post #5: Food and Fuel

By far the most eye-opening talk I attended was the “Food and fuel: Land efficient animal feeds enable large energy and environmental benefits” talk given by Dr. Bruce Dale, of Michigan State University. Dr. Dale’s talk centered on changing current land-use in order to achieve the same end-use options. This would include expanding the number of crops grown on the same number of acres (to include things such as canola, switchgrass, etc) and utilizing wastes from crops already grown (such as corn stover). In this way, using the same amount of land, biomass production could increase by 2.5 times, providing for 50% of the United States’ current gas consumption and 5% of our electricity usage. A point on which Dr. Dale was very clear is that the land used in the US for agriculture is primarily used to produce ruminant food and that by altering land use by: 1) converting idle land to switchgrass production, 2) increasing row crop yields by 20%, 3) decreasing meat consumption by 20% and 4) double cropping on land used to grow corn, biofuels could replace all US-produced gasoline AS WELL AS all US petroleum imports. This plan has several sustainability issues, however: net soil carbon would increase, SOC would double with double cropping , and nitrate leaching in soil would increase by a factor of 3. However, these issues seem to be far outweighed by the benefits of this proposed system, particularly when the fact that (in this scenario) conditions that would maximize ethanol production also favor the highest percentage of CO2 reduction.

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