Biofuels from crop residue can reduce soil carbon and increase CO 2 emissions

Adam J. Liska, Haishun Yang, Maribeth Milner, Steve Goddard, Humberto Blanco-Canqui, Matthew P. Pelton, Xiao X. Fang, Haitao Zhu, Andrew E. Suyker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Removal of corn residue for biofuels can decrease soil organic carbon (SOC; refs,) and increase CO 2 emissions because residue C in biofuels is oxidized to CO 2 at a faster rate than when added to soil. Net CO 2 emissions from residue removal are not adequately characterized in biofuel life cycle assessment (LCA). Here we used a model to estimate CO 2 emissions from corn residue removal across the US Corn Belt at 580 million geospatial cells. To test the SOC model, we compared estimated daily CO 2 emissions from corn residue and soil with CO 2 emissions measured using eddy covariance, with 12% average error over nine years. The model estimated residue removal of 6 Mg per ha a ̂'1 yr a ̂'1 over five to ten years could decrease regional net SOC by an average of 0.47-0.66 Mg C ha a ̂'1 yr a ̂'1. These emissions add an average of 50-70 g CO 2 per megajoule of biofuel (range 30-90) and are insensitive to the fraction of residue removed. Unless lost C is replaced, life cycle emissions will probably exceed the US legislative mandate of 60% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared with gasoline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-401
Number of pages4
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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