Modeling Biofuel Expansion Effects on Land Use Change Dynamics

Ethan Warner, Daniel Inman, Benjamin Kunstman, Brian Bush, Laura Vimmerstedt, Steve Peterson, Jordan Macknick, Yimin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus Citations


Increasing demand for crop-based biofuels, in addition to other human drivers of land use, induces direct and indirect land use changes (LUC). Our system dynamics tool is intended to complement existing LUC modeling approaches and to improve the understanding of global LUC drivers and dynamics by allowing examination of global LUC under diverse scenarios and varying model assumptions. We report on a small subset of such analyses. This model provides insights into the drivers and dynamic interactions of LUC (e.g., dietary choices and biofuel policy) and is not intended to assert improvement in numerical results relative to other works. Demand for food commodities are mostly met in high food and high crop-based biofuel demand scenarios, but cropland must expand substantially. Meeting roughly 25% of global transportation fuel demand by 2050 with biofuels requires >2 times the land used to meet food demands under a presumed 40% increase in per capita food demand. In comparison, the high food demand scenario requires greater pastureland for meat production, leading to larger overall expansion into forest and grassland. Our results indicate that, in all scenarios, there is a potential for supply shortfalls, and associated upward pressure on prices, of food commodities requiring higher land use intensity (e.g., beef) which biofuels could exacerbate.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number015003
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-56291


  • agriculture
  • biofuel
  • diet
  • land use
  • sustainability
  • system dynamics


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