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Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change

Author

Listed:
  • Searchinger, Timothy
  • Heimlich, Ralph
  • Houghton, R. A.
  • Dong, Fengxia
  • Elobeid, Amani
  • Fabiosa, Jacinto F.
  • Tokgoz, Simla
  • Hayes, Dermot J.
  • Yu, Hun-Hsiang

Abstract

Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

Suggested Citation

  • Searchinger, Timothy & Heimlich, Ralph & Houghton, R. A. & Dong, Fengxia & Elobeid, Amani & Fabiosa, Jacinto F. & Tokgoz, Simla & Hayes, Dermot J. & Yu, Hun-Hsiang, 2008. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change," Staff General Research Papers Archive 12881, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:12881
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