NEWBio : growing bioenergy on marginal lands
Biomass has been a resource for energy and materials in the northeastern U.S. for hundreds of years, and has the potential to dramatically increase its role in the decades to come. The region has high agricultural productivity, well-developed transportation and fuel distribution infrastructure, technologically adept human and financial resources, and substantial demand for advanced biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. Perennial energy crops, especially willow and warm-season grasses grown on abandoned and marginal agricultural and mine lands, can play a central role in creating a sustainable bioenergy future for the region. A recent project in the northeastern U.S. (NEWBio) http://www.newbio.psu.edu proposes to develop thousands of hectares of these crops and develop concurrent energy businesses and biorefineries. A major critique of large scale biomass production is competition for land between food and energy crops. A commonly suggested solution is to limit energy crops production to marginal lands. Physical marginality (soil quality, slope and location) is often used when discussing marginal lands. However, as important is the economic marginality (breakeven prices). One of the benefits of bioenergy crops is that they grow well on marginal lands. By combining economical margin with biophysical margin, we can provide a comprehensive map of marginal lands for food crops, and in so doing identify lands targeted for energy crops. This paper will briefly discuss the NEWBio project, and then focus on assessing marginal lands. This discussion will also infer how agroforestry systems can contribute to achieving bioenergy crop production.