Articles | Volume 8, issue 12
Research article
08 Dec 2011
Research article |  | 08 Dec 2011

The significance of nitrous oxide emission due to cropping of grain for biofuel production: a Swedish perspective

Å. Kasimir Klemedtsson and K. A. Smith

Abstract. The current regulations governing production of biofuels in the European Union require that they have to mitigate climate change, by producing >35% less greenhouse gases (GHG) than fossil fuels. There is a risk that this may not be achievable, since land use for crop production inevitably emits the potent GHG nitrous oxide (N2O), due to nitrogen fertilisation and cycling in the environment. We analyse first-generation biofuel production on agricultural land and conclude that efficient agricultural crop production resulting in a good harvest and low N2O emission can fulfil the EU standard, and is possible under certain conditions for the Swedish agricultural and bioethanol production systems. However, in years having low crop yields, and where cropping is on organic soils, total GHG emissions per unit of fuel produced can be even higher than those released by burning of fossil fuels. In general, the N2O emission size in Sweden and elsewhere in northern Europe is such that there is a >50% chance that the 35% saving requirement will not be met. Thus ecosystem N2O emissions have to be convincingly assessed. Here we compare Swedish emission data with values estimated by means of statistical models and by a global, top-down, approach; the measurements and the predictions often show higher values that would fail to meet the EU standard and thus prevent biofuel production development.

Final-revised paper