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Closing the gap: global potential for increasing biofuel production through agricultural intensification


Since the end of World War II, global agriculture has undergone a period of rapid intensification achieved through a combination of increased applications of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, the implementation of best management practice techniques, mechanization, irrigation, and more recently, through the use of optimized seed varieties and genetic engineering. However, not all crops and not all regions of the world have realized the same improvements in agricultural intensity. In this study we examine both the magnitude and spatial variation of new agricultural production potential from closing of 'yield gaps' for 20 ethanol and biodiesel feedstock crops. With biofuels coming under increasing pressure to slow or eliminate indirect land-use conversion, the use of targeted intensification via established agricultural practices might offer an alternative for continued growth. We find that by closing the 50th percentile production gap - essentially improving global yields to median levels - the 20 crops in this study could provide approximately 112.5 billion liters of new ethanol and 8.5 billion liters of new biodiesel production. This study is intended to be an important new resource for scientists and policymakers alike - helping to more accurately understand spatial variation of yield and agricultural intensification potential, as well as employing these data to better utilize existing infrastructure and optimize the distribution of development and aid capital. © 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd.

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