Environmental Science and Technology
Converting forest lands into bioenergy agriculture could accelerate climate change by emitting carbon stored in forests, while converting food agriculture lands into bioenergy agriculture could threaten food security. Both problems are potentially avoided by using abandoned agriculture lands for bioenergy agriculture. Here we show the global potential for bioenergy on abandoned agriculture lands to be less than 8% of current primary energy demand, based on historical land use data, satellite-derived land cover data, and global ecosystem modeling. The estimated global area of abandoned agriculture is 385-472 million hectares, or 66-110% of the areas reported in previous preliminary assessments. The area-weighted mean production of above-ground biomass is 4.3 tons/ha-1 /y-1, in contrast to estimates of up to 10 tons/ha/yr in previous assessments. The energy content of potential biomass grown on 100% of abandoned agriculture lands is less than 10% of primary energy demand for most nations in North America, Europe, and Asia, but it represents many times the energy demand in some African nations where grasslands are relatively productive and current energy demand is low.