Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
Research article
19 Jan 2012
Research article |  | 19 Jan 2012

Impacts of near-future cultivation of biofuel feedstocks on atmospheric composition and local air quality

K. Ashworth, G. Folberth, C. N. Hewitt, and O. Wild

Abstract. Large-scale production of feedstock crops for biofuels will lead to land use changes. We quantify the effects of realistic land use change scenarios for biofuel feedstock production on isoprene emissions and hence atmospheric composition and chemistry using the HadGEM2 model. Two feedstocks are considered: oil palm for biodiesel in the tropics and short rotation coppice (SRC) in the mid-latitudes. In total, 69 Mha of oil palm and 9 Mha of SRC are planted, each sufficient to replace just over 1% of projected global fossil fuel demand in 2020. Both planting scenarios result in increases in total global annual isoprene emissions of about 1%. In each case, changes in surface concentrations of ozone and biogenic secondary organic aerosol (bSOA) are substantial at the regional scale, with implications for air quality standards. However, the changes in tropospheric burden of ozone and the OH radical, and hence effects on global climate, are negligible. Over SE Asia, one region of oil palm planting, increases in annual mean surface ozone and bSOA concentrations reach over 3 ppbv (+11%) and 0.4 μg m−3 (+10%) respectively for parts of Borneo, with monthly mean increases of up to 6.5 ppbv (+25%) and 0.5 μg m−3 (+12%). Under the SRC scenario, Europe experiences monthly mean changes of over 0.6 ppbv (+1%) and 0.1 μg m−3 (+5%) in June and July, with peak increases of over 2 ppbv (+3%) and 0.5 μg m−3 (+8 %). That appreciable regional atmospheric impacts result from low level planting scenarios demonstrates the need to include changes in emissions of reactive trace gases such as isoprene in life cycle assessments performed on potential biofuel feedstocks.

Final-revised paper