What are the effects of land expansion for biofuel crops?

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Thai researchers have studied the effects of expanding land use for biofuel crops. The results of their findings have been published online in the journal Durability.

Study: Effects of Biofuel Crop Expansion on Green Gross Domestic Product. Image Credit: Mabeline72/Shutterstock.com

The rise of biofuel crops

Recently, biofuels have been widely proposed to replace diesel and gasoline. Biofuels have advantages over traditional fuels derived from petrochemicals, including lower emissions and more renewable resources, reducing society’s overreliance on limited fossil fuels. Many agencies such as the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency have reported that the demand and consumption of biofuels has increased in recent years.

The increase in the supply and production of bioethanol and biodiesel is at the heart of the concerns of researchers in the field of renewable fuels. However, increasing the supply of raw materials comes at a cost in terms of land use. In Thailand alone, land use for the cultivation of sugarcane and oil palm is targeted for a significant increase by 2026. Land increase targets for sugarcane are 1 .6 to 2.6 million hectares, while for oil palm, it is planned to increase land use from 0.7 to 6.2 million hectares.

One of the major drawbacks of increasing land use for biofuel production is its effect on food production. Arable land that could otherwise be used to feed the growing world population is being given over to the production of crops for biofuels. Other activities may be affected by this use, and there may be economic benefits for several industries.

Consumption of biofuels in Thailand (million liters per day)

Thailand’s biofuel consumption (million liters per day). Image Credit: Haputta, P et al., Sustainability

Using GDP to study the effects of increasing land use for biofuel crops

One way to measure the impact of increasing the use of cropland for biofuels is to look at it from the perspective of gross domestic product (GDP). Currently, there is a lack of studies on this impact, despite the vast amounts of land used for agricultural purposes. In Thailand, where the new study published in Durability focuses on, 40% of land use is for agricultural purposes and the agricultural sector accounts for about 10% of the country’s total GDP.

Some studies have looked at various aspects of the impact of biofuel production on economies and GDP. Studies have investigated the economic impact of bioethanol production in Thailand, using GDP as an indicator. Intertemporal GDP has been used in studies to reveal the dynamic economic effects of biofuel promotion. These studies overlooked the effects of land expansion.

However, GDP alone is insufficient to study the true impact of expanding land use for biofuel crops. Although it is a good indicator of economic growth, it does not take into account the social aspects, human well-being, social sustainability and long-term environmental effects of current consumption. . To overcome this problem, indices such as the Green GDP and the Authentic Progress Indicator have been introduced in recent years.

Main connectivity of transactions and economic activities within the CGE model.

Main connectivity of transactions and economic activities within the CGE model. Image Credit: Haputta, P et al., Sustainability

Green GDP

Green GDP is a system for forecasting economic impacts in which the depletion and degradation of natural resources are subtracted from conventional GDP. It is essentially an index of sustainable economic growth. Future levels of natural and environmental resources are obtained by subtracting resources used from conventional GDP.

There have been several studies of green GDP, including the incorporation of factors such as emissions, natural resource depletion and waste, with one study using economic input-output LCA. GDP has been integrated with ecosystem service values. These studies have used green GDP as a system to propose more sustainable practices and policies by governments and industries governing biofuels.

The research

The new article published in Durability assessed the effect on Thailand’s green GDP and wider economy of expanding land use for growing biofuel crops. The authors sought to use this study to help fill the current lack of studies in this area. In turn, the authors proposed that by using green GDP to study the Thai economy-wide effects of expanding land use for biofuel crops, more sustainable policies governing the production of biofuels can be implemented.

Manufacturing structure.

Manufacturing structure. Image Credit: Haputta, P et al., Sustainability

The targets that were officially published in the 2015 AEDP served as the basis for incorporating the expansion of cropland use for biofuels into the study. The study examined different what-if scenarios that incorporate alternative land expansion strategies and the impact of environmental interventions. The authors used a static computable general equilibrium (GCE) model in combination with life cycle impact assessments to assess the impact of land use expansion on conventional GDP and economic transactions. .

The results of the study indicated that expanding land use for biofuel crops increased Thailand’s green GDP compared to a business as usual scenario. Of the alternative land expansion scenarios, the authors found that the most positive effect on green GDP was when disused rice paddies were converted for growing biofuel crops, and the most negative effect was conversion. forest areas. The results also indicated a negative effect on rice production and milling when biofuel crop substitution was carried out, as well as reduced production capacity in some industries.

Based on their findings, the authors stated that using a GCE model to study green GDP yields comprehensive results that can be used for sustainable policy and decision-making. The study method also has potential for further research on different aspects of biofuel production.

Further reading

Haputta, P et al. (2022) Effects of Biofuel Crop Expansion on Green Gross Domestic Product [online] Durability 14(6) 3369 | mdpi.com. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/6/3369

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