Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Food vs. fuel: Growing grain for food is more energy efficient

Date:
April 20, 2010
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Using productive farmland to grow crops for food instead of fuel is more energy efficient, scientists concluded, after analyzing 17 years' worth of data to help settle the food versus fuel debate.

Using productive farmland to grow crops for food instead of fuel is more energy efficient, Michigan State University scientists concluded, after analyzing 17 years' worth of data to help settle the food versus fuel debate.

Related Articles


"It's 36 percent more efficient to grow grain for food than for fuel," said Ilya Gelfand, an MSU postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study. "The ideal is to grow corn for food, then leave half the leftover stalks and leaves on the field for soil conservation and produce cellulosic ethanol with the other half."

Other studies have looked at energy efficiencies for crops over shorter time periods, but this MSU study is the first to consider energy balances of an entire cropping system over many years. The results are published in the April 19 online issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"It comes down to what's the most efficient use of the land," said Phil Robertson, University Distinguished Professor of crop and soil sciences and one of the paper's authors. "Given finite land resources, will it be more efficient to use productive farmland for food or fuel? One compromise would be to use productive farmland for both -- to use the grain for food and the other parts of the plant for fuel where possible. Another would be to reserve productive farmland for food and to grow biofuel grasses -- cellulosic biomass -- on less productive land."

He, Gelfand and Sieglinde Snapp, another co-author and an MSU associate professor of crop and soil sciences, analyzed data collected from 1989 to 2007 at the W.K. Kellogg Long Term Ecological Research site. That National Science Foundation-funded project studies ecology and environmental biology to provide a better understanding of both natural and managed systems. It is the only agricultural program in the 26-site NSF national LTER network.

The scientists compared the energy inputs and outputs of producing corn, soybeans and wheat grown using four systems: conventional tillage, no-till, low chemical input and organic, and then using all harvested plant material for either food or biofuel production. They also looked at energy balances for growing alfalfa, an important forage plant that can be used either for biofuel or for beef cattle feed.

The analysis showed that using no-till production to grow grain for food was the most energy-efficient system for food or fuel production. Avoiding plowing with no-till management reduces tractor fuel use during production.

Producing a kilogram of corn for human food provides more energy than converting the corn to either ethanol by processing or to meat by feeding it to animals. Growing alfalfa for biofuel is 60 percent more efficient than using it as cattle feed, according to the study.

Robertson and Gelfand also are members of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct basic research aimed at solving some of the most complex problems in converting natural materials to energy.

The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 calls for biofuels to comprise 22 percent of the nation's transportation fuels by 2022.

"This research is aimed at policymakers who have to decide how and where biofuels should be grown and the best way to encourage farmers to follow those suggestions," Robertson said.

Research by MSU agricultural economics professor Scott Swinton earlier found that the most profitable cellulosic biofuel crop right now is corn stalks and leaves.

"Our research suggests that this is an energy-efficient strategy as well, so long as the grain is used for food," Robertson said. "But there are not enough corn stalks to meet expected energy needs and federal policy also may decide to offer incentives to grow crops that offer more environmental benefits than corn, including incentives to grow grasses on less productive land.

"The promise of biofuels made from biomass is huge, from both climate mitigation and economic perspectives," he continued. "But the promise could come up short if we don't pay attention to details such as the land on which they are grown."

The research is funded by the GLBRC, the NSF and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gelfand et al. Energy Efficiency of Conventional, Organic, and Alternative Cropping Systems for Food and Fuel at a Site in the U.S. Midwest. Environmental Science & Technology, 2010; 100419163028031 DOI: 10.1021/es903385g

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Food vs. fuel: Growing grain for food is more energy efficient." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100419172855.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2010, April 20). Food vs. fuel: Growing grain for food is more energy efficient. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100419172855.htm
Michigan State University. "Food vs. fuel: Growing grain for food is more energy efficient." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100419172855.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Antarctic sea ice isn't only expanding, it's thicker than previously thought, and scientists aren't sure exactly why. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yellow-Spotted Turtles Rescued from Trafficking

Yellow-Spotted Turtles Rescued from Trafficking

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) — Hundreds of Amazon River turtles released into the wild in Peru. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins