Indirect Land Use Change – Since the publication of a controversial study last year (Searchinger et al 2008), a new term has entered the policy debate around biofuels—indirect land use change (ILUC). The debate is focused on whether the carbon intensity of fuels like ethanol and Biodiesel can or should include a penalty for theoretical indirect, economic and environmental effects. Land use is just one of many indirect effects that could also increase the greenhouse gas emissions of different fuels, including gasoline.
What is the Theory? – Indirect land use change theory uses speculative models and assumptions in an attempt to blame the development of biofuel crops for deforestation in Developing Nations. According to the theory, corn used for ethanol displaces other crops, like soybeans. This in turn, causes farmers in other countries, such as Brazil, to cut down rainforests to grow soybeans and fill this demand.
What are the flaws in the theory? – The theory of ILUC is built on two basic assumptions. The first is corn used for ethanol and other crops used for biofuel production will lead to large decreases in American grain and commodity export and second; biofuel production will increase deforestation in the Amazon. Both have been argued to be empirically false. Since 1998, corn exports have remained at 1.5-2.5 billion bushels sold abroad each year and soybean exports reached record levels last year. In addition, according to the National Institute of Space Research, deforestation in the Amazon has declined sharply just as American biofuels production doubled. In 2004, 10,588 square miles of the Amazon was deforested and in 2008, that number dropped to 4,621 square miles.
Below you will find links to articles,interviews and other resources related to the iLUC policy debate.
John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia – Published a report severely criticizes the Searchinger study, that opened the ongoing debate over indirect land use changes (ILUC) resulting from biofuels production. John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, take issue with the methodology and assumptions used by Tim Searchinger and others in the study, Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land Use Change See Above, which was published in February, 2008.
The Round Table for Sustainable Biofuels – The RSB hosted a series of workshops to discuss the impacts of iLUC. The following report reviews the current effort made worldwide to address this issue. A description of land-use concepts is first provided followed by a classification of ILUC sources. Then, a discussion on the implications of including ILUC emissions in the GHG balance of biofuel pathways and a review of methodologies being developed to quantify indirect land-use change are presented. The question of methodological choices in LCA to account for ILUC is adressed. The approaches to account for this effect in carbon reporting initiatives are discussed and finally, recommendations and further research work are described.
Bruce E. Dale, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at Michigan State University presented the following report in September 2009. Professor Dale’s findings are much to the contrary of those put forth in the Searchinger document that kciked off the iLUC debate world wide.
Timothy D. Searchinger, Princeton University – Published a set of papers defining the problem of “Biofuels and Indirect Land Use Change” these papers set of a chain of events that directly affected biofuel related legislation, and the biodiesel industry as a whole.