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
"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."
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