The production of energy crops must be studied and evaluated in terms of environmental impact, in order to integrate them into a sustainable agricultural development. As bioenergy carriers they offer ecological advantages over fossil fuels by contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gases and acidifying emissions. However, there could be ecological shortcomings related to the intensity of agricultural production. There is a risk of polluting water and air, losing soil quality, enhancing erosion, and reducing biodiversity. In the scope of the project Future Crops for Food, Feed, Fiber and Fuel (4F Crops), supported by the European Union, an environmental impact assessment study was developed and applied to the production of potential energy crops in Europe. The following variables were selected as categories: use of water and mineral resources, soil quality and erosion, emission of minerals and pesticides to soil and water, waste generation and utilization, landscape, and biodiversity. In addition, a normalization and weighting procedure was applied, which attempts to aggregate environmental impacts. Results suggest that growing energy crops does not inflict higher impact on the environment compared to potato and wheat farming (regarding the studied categories). Although the different indicators did not yield a common pattern, overall results suggest that woody and lignocellulosic crops have an advantage over annual crop systems, namely regarding erodibility and biodiversity. Some crop management options, such as pesticides and fertilizers inputs, can influence the outcomes. However, site-specific factors should be accurately assessed to evaluate the adequacy between crop and location. Environmental hotspots in the systems are detected and options for improvement are presented.
|Publication status||Published - 1 Jan 2010|