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Keywords:

  • bioenergy;
  • biofuel;
  • land-use change;
  • marginal land;
  • Miscanthus lutarioriparius ;
  • radiation model

Abstract

Growing second-generation energy crops on marginal land is conceptualized as one of the primary means of future bioenergy development. However, the extent to which marginal land can support energy crop production remains unclear. The Loess Plateau of China, one of the most seriously eroded regions of the world, is particularly rich in marginal land. On the basis of the previous field experiment of planting Miscanthus species in Qingyang of the Gansu Province, herein, we estimated the yield potential of Miscanthus lutarioriparius, the species with the highest biomass, across the Loess Plateau. On the basis of the radiation model previously developed from Miscanthus field trials, annual precipitation was introduced as an additional variable for yield estimate in the semiarid and semihumid regions of the Loess Plateau. Of 62 million hectares (Mha) of the Loess Plateau, our model estimated that 48.7 Mha can potentially support Miscanthus growth, with the average yield of 17.8 t ha−1 yr−1. After excluding high-quality cropland and pasture and land suitable for afforestation, a total of 33.3 Mha of presumably marginal land were left available for producing the energy crop at the average yield of 16.8 t ha−1 yr−1 and the total annual yield of 0.56 billion tons. The analysis of environmental factors indicated that erosion, aridity, and field steepness were the primary contributors to the poor quality of the marginal land. The change of land uses from traditional agriculture to energy crop production may prevent further erosion and land degradation and consequently establish a sustainable economy for the region.