AMBIO

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 341–349

The Impact of First-Generation Biofuels on the Depletion of the Global Phosphorus Reserve

Report

DOI: 10.1007/s13280-012-0253-x

Cite this article as:
Hein, L. & Leemans, R. AMBIO (2012) 41: 341. doi:10.1007/s13280-012-0253-x

Abstract

The large majority of biofuels to date is “first-generation” biofuel made from agricultural commodities. All first-generation biofuel production systems require phosphorus (P) fertilization. P is an essential plant nutrient, yet global reserves are finite. We argue that committing scarce P to biofuel production involves a trade-off between climate change mitigation and future food production. We examine biofuel production from seven types of feedstock, and find that biofuels at present consume around 2% of the global inorganic P fertilizer production. For all examined biofuels, with the possible exception of sugarcane, the contribution to P depletion exceeds the contribution to mitigating climate change. The relative benefits of biofuels can be increased through enhanced recycling of P, but high increases in P efficiency are required to balance climate change mitigation and P depletion impacts. We conclude that, with the current production systems, the production of first-generation biofuels compromises food production in the future.

Keywords

BiofuelsPhosphorusClimate changeTrade-off

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Systems Analysis GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands