Greenhouse-gas payback times for crop-based biofuels

Elshout PMF, van Zelm R, Balkovič J, Obersteiner M, Schmid E, Skalsky R, van der Velde M, & Huijbregts MAJ (2015). Greenhouse-gas payback times for crop-based biofuels. Nature Climate Change 5 (6): 604-610. DOI:10.1038/nclimate2642.

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Abstract

A global increase in the demand for crop-based biofuels may be met by cropland expansion, and could require the sacrifice of natural vegetation. Such land transformation alters the carbon and nitrogen cycles of the original system, and causes significant greenhouse-gas emissions, which should be considered when assessing the global warming performance of crop-based biofuels. As an indicator of this performance we propose the use of greenhouse-gas payback time (GPBT), that is, the number of years it takes before the greenhouse-gas savings due to displacing fossil fuels with biofuels equal the initial losses of carbon and nitrogen stocks from the original ecosystem. Spatially explicit global GPBTs were derived for biofuel production systems using five different feedstocks (corn, rapeseed, soybean, sugarcane and winter wheat), cultivated under no-input and high-input farm management. Overall, GPBTs were found to range between 1 and 162 years (95% range, median: 19 years) with the longest GPBTs occurring in the tropics. Replacing no-input with high-input farming typically shortened the GPBTs by 45 to 79%. Location of crop cultivation was identified as the primary factor driving variation in GPBTs. This study underscores the importance of using spatially explicit impact assessments to guide biofuel policy.

Item Type: Article
Research Programs: Ecosystems Services and Management (ESM)
Bibliographic Reference: Nature Climate Change; 5:604-610 (June 2015) (Published online 11 May 2015)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 08:53
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2016 13:41
URI: http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/11463

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