Discussion Paper

Wood Bioenergy and Land Use: A Challenge to the Searchinger Hypothesis

Nov 5, 2013 | Roger A. Sedjo, Brent L. Sohngen, Anne Riddle


A concern of many environmentalists is that the use of biomass energy will decimate the forests. Searchinger et al. (2008, 2009) examined this issue related to corn ethanol and suggested that substituting corn ethanol for petroleum would increase carbon emissions associated with the land conversion abroad necessary to offset the decline in corn availability. Associated with these concerns is the overall issue of climate change (IPCC 2006). This issue is broader than simply corn. If agricultural croplands are drawn into the production of biofuel feedstocks, commodity prices are expected to rise, triggering land conversions overseas, releasing carbon emissions, and offsetting the carbon reductions expected from bioenergy. Using a general stylized forest sector management model, our study examines the economic potential of traditional industrial forests and supplemental dedicated fuelwood plantations to produce biomass on submarginal lands. It finds that these sources can economically produce large levels of biomass without compromising crop production, thereby mitigating the land conversion and carbon emissions effects posited by the Searchinger Hypothesis.