Biomass growth for biofuel use can be an economic and environmentally sustainable production if land and water resources are used efficiently. The available marginal land and degraded water sources in Nebraska can be used to improve the productivity of biomass growth (Gopalakrishnan et al., 2009). Utilizing marginal land prevents land for food production from being converted to biofuel growth, making biofuel production more economically and socially feasible. Incorporating degraded water resources into the irrigation of biomass feedstock will improve the productivity of biofuel growth and contribute to the decontamination of the Nebraska watershed. After a spatial analysis of Nebraska’s landscape, Gopalakrishnan et al. concluded that an approach to biomass feedstock growth that considers the energy, agricultural, and environmental sectors as part of an overall system is the way to achieve sustainable biofuel production. Jenny Ward
Gopalakrishnan, Gayathri et al. 2009. Biofuels, Land, and Water: A Systems Approach to Sustainability. Environmental Science and Technology 43 (15), 6094–6100
Gayathri Gopalakrishnan and his colleagues used geographic information software to develop and map displaying the marginal land and degraded water sources in Nebraska. Road and river networks and the locations of two sample biorefineries (one where marginal land is a significant resource and one where it is not) were included in the map. Four types of marginal land were observed in this study: 1) agricultural land that has been abandoned or set aside for conservation purpose; 2) buffer strips along roads; 3) buffer strips along rivers or riparian buffers; and 4) brownfield sites. The degraded water resources studied were groundwater sources contaminated by nitrate and wastewater from livestock farms and municipal treatment facilities. The purpose of this study was to determine which combination of resources provided the most economically and environmentally sustainable process for growing feedstock for biofuels.
After analysis, Gopalakrishnan et al. concluded that for the first sample biorefinery, located near significant marginal land resources, marginal agricultural land provided the greatest percentage of feedstock requirements, but both roadway and riparian sites contributed percentages. The sample biorefinery located far from marginal land resources obtained the highest percentage of feedstock requirements from minor roadway and riparian buffer sites, and very little from marginal agricultural land. In both cases, using degraded water resources as irrigation significantly increased the percent yield of feedstock. These results indicated that a systems approach to biofuels production can enable more croplands to be used for food production, reduce energy used for transportation by intensifying the biofuel potential of buffer sites, and reduce need for nitrate fertilizers by using degraded water as irrigation sources. It was speculated that net greenhouse gas emissions would decrease with a systems approach to biofuel production because of the reductions in nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer and from the increased carbon sequestration by biomass feedstock grown. Further investigations in these areas need to be conducted, however Gopalakrishnan et al. concluded that a systems approach has the potential to improve the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of biofuels.