Idle Farmlands Could Become Profitable Carbon Storage Banks

Oct 23, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Michigan's recently enacted renewable energy portfolio legislation sets new requirements for green energy production in the State. Michigan policymakers believe energy plantations could be a major source of biomass fuels. But could northern Michigan farmers earn a profit converting idle farmland to tree plantations as biomass energy crops?

Answering this question was the goal of Michigan Technological University graduate student Chris Miller's Master's degree thesis research. Miller and his advisor, Robert Froese, a professor in Michigan Tech's School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, examined whether aspen trees planted on idle farmland in Presque Isle County could be sold profitably as chips used as biomass for electric power generation.

"The Michigan Climate Action Council draft policy options note that biomass from energy crops is an important part of the renewable energy solution," Froese said. "But more importantly, putting idle lands back into production is a way to bring economic opportunities to northern Michigan communities."

Miller developed detailed cultivation and cost models for planting, tending and harvesting aspen trees and adapted existing models that predict forest growth to estimate the amount of chips that could be produced on lands of different quality. Though the current market price for coal and wood chips is low, Miller found that farmers should be able to turn a profit on the very best lands in the northern lower part of the State.

But the price of chips is just one of the potential revenues from biomass crop production, Miller said. Tree plantings not only produce biomass that can be harvested for fuel, but root growth and years of fallen leaves incorporated in the soil also store carbon from the atmosphere that was released from fossil fuels burned elsewhere.

"Michigan's Conservation and Climate Initiative allows farmers to plant trees and get credit for the carbon dioxide sequestered in plantation soils," Miller noted. "These credits can be sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange and will become more and more valuable in the future."

When Miller took carbon credits into consideration in his cost models, an entirely different picture emerged. He found that a net credit of only $6 per metric ton would make aspen plantations economically feasible on all of the lands studied in Presque Isle County, including lands of relatively low quality.

"Our research shows that we're surprisingly close to the tipping point where tree plantations on large areas of idle farmlands would be profitable," said Froese. "If chip prices increase because of increased demand for wood fiber from a number of bioenergy projects being developed in Michigan, this alone could be sufficient."

Provided by Michigan Technological University

Explore further: 3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Grass as the new biofuel

Dec 18, 2013

A new European research project seeks grass crops that could be grown and harvested on marginal lands, away from areas suitable for food crops

Recommended for you

3Qs: Game theory and global climate talks

Nov 21, 2014

Last week, China and the United States announced an ambitious climate agreement aimed at reducing carbon emissions in both countries, a pledge that marks the first time that China has agreed to stop its growing emissions. ...

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

Nov 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

Nicaragua: Studies say canal impact to be minimal

Nov 20, 2014

Officials said Thursday that studies have determined a $40 billion inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua will have minimal impact on the environment and society, and construction is to begin next month.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GrayMouser
2 / 5 (4) Oct 23, 2008
That's right... Reduce the production of food stuffs... Smart idea.
MikeB
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 23, 2008
I can hardly wait to start spending my carbon credits! :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.