Diet, Land Use, and the Biofuel Nexus

Fall 2013 Clean Energy
Tom L. Richard
Director, Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment
Professor of Biological Engineering
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Diet, Land Use, and the Biofuel Nexus

Most analyses of land availability for biomass crops has focused on abandoned land, which had been increasing for many years in the U.S. until the advent of corn ethanol demand.  In this study we unpack the role of diet, both existing trends and nutritional recommendations, on land requirements for food production.  Results suggest a potentially large reduction in food-land requirements for the U.S. that could translate into a large biofuel supply.  While our analysis was confined to the U.S. food system, several trends suggest increasing availability of agricultural land around the globe as well. Will we use reclaim this land for biodiversity and nature, abandon it as wasteland, or develop sustainable strategies for agro-biofuel landscapes that also provide valuable ecosystem services?  These are important choices our society should begin considering now.


Tom Richard is a professor of biological engineering and the Director of Penn State’s Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE), where he coordinates a network of almost 500 faculty engaged in innovative interdisciplinary research.  Dr. Richard currently directs the $10 million NEWBio Sustainable Bioenergy Consortium for the USDA’s National Institutes of Food and Agriculture, and serves as the deputy technical director for the DOE’s National Risk Assessment Partnership for carbon sequestration. Dr. Richard is the author or co-author of over 140 research and technical publications and is a Fellow and Past President of the Institute of Biological Engineering.  He has a B.S. from the University of California at Berkeley, and M.S. and PhD degrees from Cornell University.

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