Virginia, US: Scientists at the US Geological Survey (USGS) developed a tool for mapping grasslands using remote sensing (RS) data. The purpose of this tool is to identify areas in and around Nebraska Grasslands, US, that are suitable for the production of cellulosic biofuels from native switch grass.
USGS Director Marcia McNutt stated, “This innovative scientific study takes some of the guesswork out of deciding whether it could be feasible to raise a potentially high value crop for biofuels on America’s grasslands. Using non-food crops for fuel grown on land not now under cultivation is a low-impact step towards America’s energy independence.”
Remote sensing data from satellites was used to identify detailed areas of the Greater Platte River Basin (most of Nebraska, parts of adjacent states) that are best suited for producing cellulosic (from the cell walls of plants) biofuel derived from hardy switchgrass, a native plant that grows wild or is easily cultivated.
The maps of areas with high biofuel production potential were produced by combining satellite-derived vegetation data with weather data, soil types, terrain, and other physical data. An analytical method developed by the scientists helped in separating the influence of long-term year-to-year weather changes (e.g. drought) from short-term disturbance changes (e.g. fire or overgrazing) in order to identify suitable areas more accurately. The maps can be used to optimise land use decisions for biofuel development and sustainability.
The USGS said it expected demand for biofuel products to increase as global economics search out alternatives to fossil fuels. Critical considerations concerning the broader production of biofuels include issues of how much energy we get from the biofuel compared to the amount of energy required to grow and process it; its environmental impact; and the effect of biofuel production on prices of human food, livestock feed, and agricultural land.