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Mar 1, 2011

Studying Climate Impact of Annual Corn Crops v. Perennial Grasses for BioFuel

On 28 February 2011, scientists from Arizona State University, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that analyzed the impact of converting large areas of land in the midwestern U.S. to bioenergy crops. 

The U.S. has legally mandated increases in renewable fuels.  To date this has mainly occurred through the conversion of domestic corn harvests.  Other bioenergy crops are under consideration including grasses such as Miscanthus and switchgrass.

According to lead researcher Matei Georgescu, a climate modeler working in ASU's Center for Environmental Fluid Dynamics, the team's research focused beyond carbon emissions to what modeling what would happen as the landscape "was modified." 

Using two different climate models, the researchers studied the impact of an annual biocrop (e.g. corn) vs. the impact of a perennial biocrop (e.g. micanthus grass).  Their conclusion - "perennial plants pumped more water from the soil to the atmosphere, leading to large local cooling."

"We've shown that planting perennial bioenergy crops can lower surface temperatures by about a degree Celsius locally, averaged over the entire growing season. That's a pretty big effect, enough to dominate any effects of carbon savings on the regional climate," said David Lobell, co-author of the study from Stanford University.

For more see:

"Scientists Identify New Implications for Perennial Bioenergy Crops," ScienceDaily, 1 March 2011.

Matei Georgescu, David B. Lobell, and Christopher B. Field. "Direct climate effects of perennial bioenergy crops in the United States." PNAS, 28 Feb. 2011.

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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