Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne researchers study how reflectivity of biofuel crops impacts climate

November 28, 2016

Historically, studies of impacts to greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change, such as converting forests, grasslands or pastureland to land used for producing biofuel crops, have primarily considered changes in the amount of carbon stored in the soil and vegetation of these lands. However, change in reflectivity, or "albedo," is another factor to consider in such land use change analyses that had only been studied to a limited extent in past analyses.

To improve understanding of the changes in greenhouse gas emissions due to albedo effects, Hao Cai of Argonne's Energy Systems Division, along with EVS researchers Yan Feng and Jiali Wang, collaborated to conduct a detailed study incorporating data from millions of sites in more than a thousand counties in the U.S.

While there is much data variability, the findings reveal that when a piece of land is changed to produce a biofuel crop, albedo effects also changed. When only albedo change effects are considered, researchers found that land converted to producing corn ethanol had a net cooling effect on climate. By comparison, land that was converted to producing miscanthus and switchgrass, two other plant sources for next-generation biofuels, had a net warming effect. But when carbon stock changes, another key effect of land use change, are also taken into account, corn and switchgrass ethanol exhibit net warming effects associated with land use change whereas miscanthus grass ethanol exhibits a net cooling effect.

Read the full article by Argonne science writer Joan Koka.

In Hao Cai, Yan Feng, and Jiali Wang’s robust analysis, they investigated albedo effects and land usage in millions of sites across the U.S.
In Hao Cai, Yan Feng, and Jiali Wang’s robust analysis, they investigated albedo effects and land usage in millions of sites across the U.S. [Source: Wes Agresta, Argonne National Laboratory]
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portrait of Yan Feng
portrait of Jiali Wang