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The role of soils in provision of energy

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Jenny Farmer


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© 2021 The Author(s).Soils have both direct and indirect impacts on available energy, but energy provision, in itself, has direct and indirect impacts on soils. Burning peats provides only approximately 0.02% of global energy supply yet emits approximately 0.7-0.8% of carbon losses from land-use change and forestry (LUCF). Bioenergy crops provide approximately 0.3% of energy supply and occupy approximately 0.2-0.6% of harvested area. Increased bioenergy demand is likely to encourage switching from forests and pastures to rotational energy cropping, resulting in soil carbon loss. However, with protective policies, incorporation of residues from energy provision could sequester approximately 0.4% of LUCF carbon losses. All organic wastes available in 2018 could provide approximately 10% of global energy supply, but at a cost to soils of approximately 5% of LUCF carbon losses; not using manures avoids soil degradation but reduces energy provision to approximately 9%. Wind farms, hydroelectric solar and geothermal schemes provide approximately 3.66% of energy supply and occupy less than approximately 0.3% of harvested area, but if sited on peatlands could result in carbon losses that exceed reductions in fossil fuel emissions. To ensure renewable energy provision does not damage our soils, comprehensive policies and management guidelines are needed that (i) avoid peats, (ii) avoid converting permanent land uses (such as perennial grassland or forestry) to energy cropping, and (iii) return residues remaining from energy conversion processes to the soil. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of soils in delivering Nature's Contributions to People'.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith J, Farmer J, Smith P, Nayak D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2021

Volume: 376

Issue: 1834

Print publication date: 27/09/2021

Online publication date: 04/08/2021

Acceptance date: 05/05/2021

ISSN (print): 0962-8436

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2970

Publisher: Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0180


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