New Study Says It’s More Energy-Efficient to Grow Crops for Food Than Fuel


Here’s another morsel to chew over on Earth Day: a study has crunched 17 years’ worth of data and concluded that it’s more energy-efficient to grow crops for food rather than fuel.

As Science Daily reports, the study, conducted by Michigan State University, found that it’s 36 percent more efficient to grow grain for human consumption rather than fuel; according to Ilya Gelfand, the lead author of the study, “the ideal is to grow corn for food, then leave half the leftover stalks and leaves on the field for soil conservation and produce cellulosic ethanol with the other half.”

The scientists compared the energy inputs and outputs of several growing systems, and harvested the crops for either food or biofuel production. They found that the production of a kilogram of corn for feeding people yields more energy than converting it to ethanol or processing it into animal feed. On the flip side, they discovered that growing alfalfa for biofuel is 60 percent more efficient than using it to feed cattle.

The study’s results suggest that it would be most ideal to use grain for food and corn stalks and leaves for fuel, although policy makers, scientists, and farmers will need to pay close attention to the way the land is treated in order to make good on the environmental promise that biofuels hold.

[Via the Food Section]

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