Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
Predictive environmental understanding

Promoting sustainable bioenergy landscapes through the quantification of ecosystem services

March 26, 2019

Bioenergy production in marginal lands is increasingly recognized for its potential to synergistically increase food and energy production while also providing a range of ecosystem services that include the improvement of soil and water quality, enhancement of wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. EVS scientists have recently published a paper in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy that evaluates the impacts of growing switchgrass within row-crop landscapes of a Midwest corn-belt watershed—the Upper Vermilion Basin in Illinois. Under an alternative bioenergy landscape scenario that includes switchgrass in areas of underproductive farmland, the researchers estimated the values of ecosystem services with a focus on reductions in nitrate and sediment loss and carbon dioxide emissions.

Taking into account the ecosystem services provided under an alternative energy landscape scenario shows the real economic value of bioenergy. The study found that the annual values of nitrate and sediment reduction ranged from $38 to $97 million and $16,000 to $197,000, respectively. The annual value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions was estimated to range from $1.8 to $6.1 million. These findings demonstrate how critical the consideration of ecosystem services is in supporting the adoption of bioenergy crops in working agricultural landscapes.

Read the full article in Global Change Biology Bioenergy.

Distribution of marginal lands (in brown) in the Upper Vermilion Basin in Illinois which could be used for the production of switchgrass to create an alternative bioenergy landscape (ABL). The graph shows the potential value of nitrate reduction from the ABL practice as compared to business as usual (BAU) scenario.
Distribution of marginal lands (in brown) in the Upper Vermilion Basin in Illinois which could be used for the production of switchgrass to create an alternative bioenergy landscape (ABL). The graph shows the potential value of nitrate reduction from the ABL practice as compared to business as usual (BAU) scenario. [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]