Consensus, uncertainties and challenges for perennial bioenergy crops and land use

Jeanette Whitaker*, John L. Field, Carl J. Bernacchi, Carlos E.P. Cerri, Reinhart Ceulemans, Christian A. Davies, Evan H. DeLucia, Iain S. Donnison, Jon P. McCalmont, Keith Paustian, Rebecca L. Rowe, Pete Smith, Patricia Thornley, Niall P. McNamara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Perennial bioenergy crops have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation by substituting for fossil fuels; yet delivering significant GHG savings will require substantial land-use change, globally. Over the last decade, research has delivered improved understanding of the environmental benefits and risks of this transition to perennial bioenergy crops, addressing concerns that the impacts of land conversion to perennial bioenergy crops could result in increased rather than decreased GHG emissions. For policymakers to assess the most cost-effective and sustainable options for deployment and climate change mitigation, synthesis of these studies is needed to support evidence-based decision making. In 2015, a workshop was convened with researchers, policymakers and industry/business representatives from the UK, EU and internationally. Outcomes from global research on bioenergy land-use change were compared to identify areas of consensus, key uncertainties, and research priorities. Here, we discuss the strength of evidence for and against six consensus statements summarising the effects of land-use change to perennial bioenergy crops on the cycling of carbon, nitrogen and water, in the context of the whole life-cycle of bioenergy production. Our analysis suggests that the direct impacts of dedicated perennial bioenergy crops on soil carbon and nitrous oxide are increasingly well understood and are often consistent with significant life cycle GHG mitigation from bioenergy relative to conventional energy sources. We conclude that the GHG balance of perennial bioenergy crop cultivation will often be favourable, with maximum GHG savings achieved where crops are grown on soils with low carbon stocks and conservative nutrient application, accruing additional environmental benefits such as improved water quality. The analysis reported here demonstrates there is a mature and increasingly comprehensive evidence base on the environmental benefits and risks of bioenergy cultivation which can support the development of a sustainable bioenergy industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-164
Number of pages15
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number3
Early online date27 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2017 The Authors. Global Change Biology Bioenergy Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • biofuels
  • biomass
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • land-use change
  • life-cycle assessment
  • nitrous oxide
  • perennial bioenergy crops
  • soil carbon


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