Trade-off between Bioenergy and Emissions When Land Is Scarce, The

Nathan S. Kauffman, Dermot J. Hayes
January 2011  [11-WP 519]

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Kauffman, N. and D.J. Hayes. 2011. "Trade-off between Bioenergy and Emissions When Land Is Scarce, The." Working paper 11-WP 519. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Agricultural biofuels require the use of scarce land, and this land has opportunity cost. We explore the objective function of a social planner who includes a land constraint in the optimization decision to minimize environmental cost. The results show that emissions should be measured on a per acre basis. Conventional agricultural life cycle assessments for biofuels report carbon emissions on a per gallon basis, thereby ignoring the implications of land scarcity and implicitly assuming an infinite supply of the inputs needed for production. Switchgrass and corn are then modeled as competing alternatives to show how the inclusion of a land constraint can influence life cycle rankings and alter policy conclusions.

Keywords: biofuels, biomass, energy policy, land use, life cycle analysis.

JEL codes: Q16, Q48, Q58