Importance of biophysical effects on climate warming mitigation potential of biofuel crops over the conterminous United States

Peng Zhu, Qianlai Zhuang, Joo Eva, Carl Bernacchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current quantification of climate warming mitigation potential (CWMP) of biomass-derived energy has focused primarily on its biogeochemical effects. This study used site-level observations of carbon, water, and energy fluxes of biofuel crops to parameterize and evaluate the community land model (CLM) and estimate CO2 fluxes, surface energy balance, soil carbon dynamics of corn (Zea mays), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus) ecosystems across the conterminous United States considering different agricultural management practices and land-use scenarios. We find that neglecting biophysical effects underestimates the CWMP of transitioning from croplands and marginal lands to energy crops. Biogeochemical effects alone result in changes in carbon storage of −1.9, 49.1, and 69.3 g C m−2 y−1 compared to 20.5, 78.5, and 96.2 g C m−2 y−1 when considering both biophysical and biogeochemical effects for corn, switchgrass, and miscanthus, respectively. The biophysical contribution to CWMP is dominated by changes in latent heat fluxes. Using the model to optimize growth conditions through fertilization and irrigation increases the CWMP further to 79.6, 98.3, and 118.8 g C m−2 y−1, respectively, representing the upper threshold for CWMP. Results also show that the CWMP over marginal lands is lower than that over croplands. This study highlights that neglecting the biophysical effects of altered surface energy and water balance underestimates the CWMP of transitioning to bioenergy crops at regional scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-590
Number of pages14
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • agricultural management
  • biofuel crops
  • biophysical effect
  • carbon sequestration
  • community land model
  • marginal land

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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