There is an intense ongoing debate regarding the potential scale of biofuel production without creating adverse effects on food supply. In a study recently published by the American Chemical Society, Dr. Bruce Dale and others explore the possibility of three land-efficient technologies for producing food (actually animal feed), including leaf protein concentrates, pretreated forages, and double crops to increase the total amount of plant biomass available for biofuels.
"The U.S. is the world's largest petroleum user and also a significant exporter of agricultural commodities," the researchers state. "Our analysis shows that the U.S. can produce very large amounts of biofuels, maintain domestic food supplies, continue our contribution to international food supplies, increase soil fertility, and significantly reduce greenhouse gases. If so, then integrating biofuel production with animal feed production may also be a pathway available to many other countries."
Using less than 30 percent of total U.S. cropland, pasture, and range, 400 billion liters of ethanol can be produced annually without decreasing domestic food production or agricultural exports. This approach also reduces U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10 percent of total U.S. annual emissions, while increasing soil fertility and promoting biodiversity. Researchers conclude we can replace a large fraction of U.S. petroleum consumption without indirect land use change.
"Resolving the apparent 'food versus fuel' conflict seems to be more a matter of making the right choices rather than hard resource and technical constraints," the researchers state. "If we so choose, we can quite readily adapt our agricultural system to produce food, animal feed, and sustainable biofuels."
Reference: "Biofuels Done Right: Land Efficient Animal Feeds Enable Large Environmental and Energy Benefits," Bruce E. Dale, Bryan D. Bals, Seungdo Kim, Pragnya Eranki; Environmental Science & Technology, 2010 44 (22), 8385-8389.