Land-use change to bioenergy production in Europe: implications for the greenhouse gas balance and soil carbon

Publication: Research - peer-reviewJournal article – Annual report year: 2011

  • Author: Don, Axel

    Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute

  • Author: Osborne, Bruce

    University College Dublin

  • Author: Hastings, Astley

    University of Aberdeen

  • Author: Smiba, Ute

    Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

  • Author: Carter, Mette Sustmann

    Ecosystems, Biosystems Division, Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Drewer, Julia

    Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

  • Author: Flessa, Heinz

    Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute

  • Author: Freibauer, Annette

    Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute

  • Author: Hyvönen, Niina

    University of Eastern Finland

  • Author: Jones, Mike B.

    Trinity College Dublin

  • Author: Lanigan, Gary J.

    TEAGASC, Ireland

  • Author: Mander, Ülo

    University of Tartu

  • Author: Monti, Andrea

    University of Bologna

  • Author: Djomo, Sylvestre Njakou

    University of Antwerp

  • Author: Valentine, John

    Aberystwyth University

  • Author: Walter, Katja

    Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institute

  • Author: Zegada-Lizarazu, Walter

    University of Bologna

  • Author: Zenone, Terenzio

    University of Toledo

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Bioenergy from crops is expected to make a considerable contribution to climate change mitigation. However, bioenergy is not necessarily carbon neutral because emissions of CO2, N2O and CH4 during crop production may reduce or completely counterbalance CO2 savings of the substituted fossil fuels. These greenhouse gases (GHGs) need to be included into the carbon footprint calculation of different bioenergy crops under a range of soil conditions and management practices. This review compiles existing knowledge on agronomic and environmental constraints and GHG balances of the major European bioenergy crops, although it focuses on dedicated perennial crops such as Miscanthus and short rotation coppice species. Such second-generation crops account for only 3% of the current European bioenergy production, but field data suggest they emit 40% to >99% less N2O than conventional annual crops. This is a result of lower fertilizer requirements as well as a higher N-use efficiency, due to effective N-recycling. Perennial energy crops have the potential to sequester additional carbon in soil biomass if established on former cropland (0.44 Mg soil C ha 1 yr 1 for poplar and willow and 0.66 Mg soil C ha 1 yr 1 for Miscanthus). However, there was no positive or even negative effects on the C balance if energy crops are established on former grassland. Increased bioenergy production may also result in direct and indirect land-use changes with potential high C losses when native vegetation is converted to annual crops. Although dedicated perennial energy crops have a high potential to improve the GHG balance of bioenergy production, several agronomic and economic constraints still have to be overcome.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Pages (from-to)372-391
StatePublished - 2012
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 148


  • biofuel, carbon debt, carbon footprint, land management, methane, Miscanthus, nitrous oxide, short rotation coppice, soil organic carbon
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ID: 6245282