The Real Impact of U.S. Biofuels on ILUC

Joanna Schroeder

A new study has looked at the “real” impacts of U.S. biofuels production both domestically and internationally and has concluded it is “negligible or nonexistent.” The research was coauthored by Dr. Seungdo Kim and Dr. Bruce E. Dale and was published in the July issue of Biomass and Bioenergy Journal under the title, “Indirect land use change for biofuels: Testing predictions and improving analytical methodologies.”

“It is the first evidence-based evaluation of ILUC utilizing actual historic data, employing a ‘bottom-up’, data-driven, statistical approach based on individual world regions’ land use patterns and commodity grain imports,” stated Dr. Roger Conway, senior partner at Rosslyn Advisors LLC and former director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses.

The authors say that very few previous studies have attempted to find empirical evidence for or against indirect land use change from historical data, rather most studies rely on global economic simulations.

Dale said, “Unlike most other ILUC work this study relied on very few assumptions and did not attempt to quantify nor to predict ILUC effects. We searched for direct historical evidence for ILUC in relevant world areas rather than attempting to project or predict what course ILUC might take. Projecting forward can force scientists to make untestable assumptions.”

This study was unique in that is used data from 1990, when the U.S. biofuels industry was very small, as its baseline. It then measured crop changes against that as U.S. ethanol production has significantly grown during the past decade.

To test the hypotheses that ILUC had occurred, the authors searched for actual land use change in 18 regions around the world where either corn, soybeans or both are produced. The authors explain that had ILUC occurred, then use of crop land and arable land would have increased while the area of natural ecosystem land would have declined. In addition, grain shipments from the U.S. to other regions would decline. Finally, the authors said cropland in other regions would positively correlate with changes in harvested acres for corn and soybeans in the U.S. and this simply was not the case.

“Prior modeling studies that relied on many assumptions have led to inflated projections for indirect land use change,” added Dr. Steffen Mueller of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Some work has substituted other data, such as the price of corn, to project ILUC. Modeling is important, but all models need to be tested and verified. These findings show that there is no substitute for using actual historic data when investigating ILUC.”

biofuels, Ethanol, food and fuel, Research