Knowledge for better food systems

Article: bioenergy crop potentials in 2050

This paper points out that the potential for producing bioenergy from crops depends on a great many factors including assumptions about gains in agricultural productivity, patterns of food demand, political stability, policies on biodiversity and so forth.


The future bioenergy crop potential depends on (1) changes in the food system (food demand, agricultural technology), (2) political stability and investment security, (3) biodiversity conservation, (4) avoidance of long carbon payback times from deforestation, and (5) energy crop yields. Using a biophysical biomass-balance model, we analyze how these factors affect global primary bioenergy potentials in 2050. The model calculates biomass supply and demand balances for eleven world regions, eleven food categories, seven food crop types and two livestock categories, integrating agricultural forecasts and scenarios with a consistent global land use and NPP database. The TREND scenario results in a global primary bioenergy potential of 77 EJ/yr, alternative assumptions on food-system changes result in a range of 26–141 EJ/yr. Exclusion of areas for biodiversity conservation and inaccessible land in failed states reduces the bioenergy potential by up to 45%. Optimistic assumptions on future energy crop yields increase the potential by up to 48%, while pessimistic assumptions lower the potential by 26%. We conclude that the design of sustainable bioenergy crop production policies needs to resolve difficult trade-offs such as food vs. energy supply, renewable energy vs. biodiversity conservation or yield growth vs. reduction of environmental problems of intensive agriculture.



Erb K-H, Haberl H and Plutzar C (2012). Dependency of global primary bioenergy crop potentials in 2050 on food systems, yields, biodiversity conservation and political stability, Energy Policy, 47, 260–269

You can download the paper (subscription access only) here. Note that the paper’s authors also used their model to produce a scoping study for Friends of the Earth and Compassion in World Farming in 2009, which modelled different scenarios for livestock production (and consumption) on land use.  You can access that study via the FCRN website here.


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