Food vs. fuel: the use of land for lignocellulosic 'next generation' energy crops that minimize competition with primary food production

John Valentine, John Clifton-Brown, Astley Francis St John Hastings, Paul Robson, Gordon Allison, Pete Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

224 Citations (Scopus)


This review addresses the main issues concerning anticipated demands for the use of land for food and for bioenergy. It should be possible to meet increasing demands for food using existing and new technologies although this may not be easily or cheaply accomplished. The alleviation of hunger depends on food accessibility as well as food availability. Modern civilizations also require energy. This article presents the vision for bioenergy in terms of four major gains for society: a reduction in C emissions from the substitution of fossil fuels with appropriate energy crops; a significant contribution to energy security by reductions in fossil fuel dependence, for example, to meet government targets; new options that stimulate rural and urban economic development, and reduced dependence of global agriculture on fossil fuels. This vision is likely to be best fulfilled by the use of dedicated perennial bioenergy crops. We outline a number of factors that need to be taken into account in estimating the land area available for bioenergy. In terms of provisioning services, the value of biofuels is estimated at $54.7?$330 bn per year at a crude oil price of $100 per barrel. In terms of regulatory services, the value of carbon emissions saved is estimated at $56?$218 bn at a carbon price of $40 per tonne. Although global government subsidies for biofuels have been estimated at $20 bn (IEA, 2010b), these are dwarfed by subsidies for fossil fuel consumption ($312 bn; IEA, 2010b) and by total agricultural support for food and commodity crops ($383.7 bn in 2009; OECD, 2010).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Issue number1
Early online date19 Jul 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • bioenergy
  • biofuels
  • ecosystem services
  • energy crops
  • food
  • land use
  • Miscanthus X giganteus
  • phalaris-arundinacea fields
  • greenhouse-gas mitigation
  • perennial biomass crops
  • climate-change
  • lignin modification
  • future-prospects
  • molecular-basis
  • security
  • yield


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