Assessing the Returns to Land and Greenhouse Gas Savings from Producing Energy Crops on Conservation Reserve Program Land

Luoye Chen, Elena Blanc-Betes, Tara W. Hudiburg, Daniel Hellerstein, Steven Wallander, Evan H. Delucia, Madhu Khanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using land already enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the eastern region of the U.S. for producing energy crops for bioenergy while reducing land rental payments offers the potential for lowering the program costs, increasing returns to CRP landowners, and displacing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuels. We develop an integrated modeling approach to analyze the combination of biomass prices and CRP land rental payment reductions that can incentivize energy crop production on CRP land and its potential to increase soil carbon stocks and displace fossil fuel emissions. We find that conversion of 3.4 million ha in the CRP can be economically viable at a minimum biomass price of $75 Mg-1 with full CRP land rental payment or at $100 Mg-1 with 75% of this land rental payment; this conversion can result in savings of 0.52 and 1.25 billion Mg CO2-eq in life-cycle emissions through the displacement of energy-equivalent fossil fuels and coal-based electricity, respectively, and an additional 0.11 billion Mg CO2-eq soil carbon sequestration relative to the status quo, with CRP left unharvested over the 2016-2030 period. The soil carbon debt due to the transition from unharvested CRP land to energy crops is short-lived and more than offset by the reduction in fossil fuel emissions. The net discounted benefits from producing energy crops on CRP land through a reduced need for government payments to maintain existing enrollment, higher returns to CRP landowners, and the value of the reduction in GHG emissions could be as high as $16-$30 billion by using them for cellulosic biofuels to displace gasoline and $35-$68 billion by displacing coal-based electricity over the 2016-2030 period if biomass prices are $75-$125 Mg-1 and land rental payments are reduced by 25%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1301-1309
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 19 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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