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Journal of Integrative Plant Biology 2010, 52 (1): 112–121

Invited Expert Review

Marginal Land-based Biomass Energy Production in China
Ya Tang1,2 , Jia-Sui Xie1 and Shu Geng2,3
of Environment, College of Architecture and Environment, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610065, China of Environment and Energy, Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School, Shenzhen 518055, China 3 University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA ∗ Corresponding author Tel: +86 28 8541 5108; Fax: +86 28 8541 5108 or +86 28 8540 5613; E-mail: tangya@scu.edu.cn Available online on 6 January 2010 at www.jipb.net and www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/jipb doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7909.2010.00903.x
2 School 1 Department ∗

Abstract
Fast economic development in China has resulted in a significant increase in energy demand. Coal accounts for 70% of China’s primary energy consumption and its combustion has caused many environmental and health problems. Energy security and environmental protection requirements are the main drivers for renewable energy development in China. Small farmland and food security make bioenergy derived from corn or sugarcane unacceptable to China: the focus should be on generating bioenergy from lignocellulosic feedstock sources. As China cannot afford biomass energy production from its croplands, marginal lands may play an important role in biomass energy production. Although on a small scale, marginal land has already been used for various purposes. Ya Tang It is estimated that some 45 million hm2 of marginal land could (Corresponding author) be brought into high potential biomass energy production. For the success of such an initiative, it will likely be necessary to develop multipurpose plants. A case study, carried out on marginal land in Ningnan County, Sichuan Province with per capita cropland of 0.07 ha, indicated that some 380 000 tons of dry biomass could be produced each year from annual pruning of mulberry trees. This study supports the feasibility of producing large quantities of biomass from marginal land sources.

Tang Y, Xie JS, Geng S (2010) Marginal land-based biomass energy production in China. J. Integr. Plant Biol. 52(1), 112–121.

Introduction
Energy is the engine of world economy and energy consumption increases have paralleled economic development. In the past four decades, the primary energy consumption of the world increased from 4 983 million tons oil equivalent (M toe) in 1970 to 11 099 M toe in 2007 (BP 2009), most of which is in the form of fossil energy. This trend for increasing energy consumption will likely continue in the future. In contrast to the increasing energy demand, fossil energy reserves are being 2010 Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences

quickly depleted. In addition, use of fossil energy has also caused many environmental and health problems. It has been the major contributor to greenhouse gas emission and global warming. Therefore, energy security and mitigating climate change are the two main drivers that have pushed renewable energy production to the top of global agendas (Karp and Shield 2008). Since the Chinese economic reform started in 1978, economic development has made China the second consumer of energy, worldwide. Primary energy consumption in China

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tidal flat and unused land as cultivable potential land sources. has become the focus for bioenergy development. import demand for crude oil has continued to increase (Li and Oberheitmann 2009). Second-generation bioenergy. most of which. Therefore. However. land boundaries and land along highways/roads into consideration. marginal land is evaluated in terms of a cost/benefit analysis and is economically marginal. in China. Biomass energy in China is not only needed as a substitute for fossil energy but also is required as the main energy source in rural areas. bioenergy has attracted great attention worldwide. Li and Oberheitmann 2009). With increasing use of petroleum and natural gas. however. such as rapeseed. 2003. reed swamp. provided an appropriate energy crop is . wind energy and bioenergy has become a high priority during the past decade. marshland. the Ministry of Agriculture defines marginal land that may be used for growing energy crops as wasteland and paddy land fallowed in winter. and post 2000. Marginal Land Resources Concept of marginal land Marginal land has various meanings in different disciplines (Table 1) and the coverage of marginal land differs. Given that economic production and per capita income will increase in China. There is a growing interest in the use of agricultural lands to produce energy feedstocks and a study indicates that bioenergy crops show the greatest potential among all of the agricultural options to remove CO 2 from the atmosphere (Smith et al. However. 2000). respectively. 1980s and 1990s. an almost five-fold increase. In 2007. the share of coal in the total primary energy consumption has dropped from over 85% prior to 1970 to approximately 75% during the 1970s. grassland.8% in 2007 (BP 2009). China has a large population but limited arable land resources. China will not be able to produce bioenergy from its limited forest resources. feed and fiber makes it impractical for China. 181–264 million tons of wood fuel alone was consumed. Unlike many other countries. solar energy. China’s share of the world energy consumption increased substantially: rising from 3.7% in 1965 to 16. Challenges to reducing GHG emissions are great. Apart from crop residues used as fuel. As possibly the most important renewable energy. It is projected that China would need 3 billion tons stand coal equivalent (T sce) in 2 020 and 3. energy demand will continue to rise in the coming decades. made from ligno-cellulosic biomass feedstock. The coverage of marginal land of the above two studies differs and neither of them has taken land risers. supply of biomass feedstock should be available at a low cost and on a very large scale (Antizar-Ladislao and Turrion-Gomez 2008). development and use of renewable energy in China is urgently needed. Development of alternate energy sources. 2008). Wasteland includes natural grassland.6 billion T sce in 2 030 (IEA 2004. In addition. has greatly increased. It should be noted that. 2008). Similarly. these areas usually have satisfactory fertility and productivity and previous studies have established their high potential in fruit and biomass production (Tang et al. However. It is essential that the development of a bioenergy industry does not compete for land with food. Generally. Lu et al. With increasing energy demand. scrubland and unused land that may be used to grow energy crops. hence. bareland. is considered to be potential marginal land suitable for biomass energy production (Yan et al. Winter-fallowed paddy land refers to the paddy land fallowed during winter in south China that may be used to grow an energy crop. per annum. it declined further to around 70%. 2009). a three. if the bioenergy industry is to succeed.to fourfold increase in 30 years (BP 2009). Ever since. the country is short of energy. from 296 M toe in 1978 to 1 311 M toe in 2007: that is. over 55% of the population lived in rural areas (NBSC 2008). feed and fiber production. saline land. 2008). except for marshland and wetland. in particular. it is widely recognized that the availability of land to grow bioenergy crops will become a limiting factor in bioenergy development. The quantity of coal consumed. Yan and colleagues (2008) include wasteland. including hydroelectricity. petroleum and natural gas. From the energy security and mitigating climate change points of view. China’s bioenergy production will have to seek other alternatives: marginal lands will play an important role in this regard. Though the first-generation bioenergy derived from overstored grains is available in limited quantity. The area of land available to grow energy crops without affecting food security and the rural economy is limited and. China became a net importer of petroleum oil and oil products in 1993 and a net importer of crude oil in 1996. While many types of fossil energy are found in China. sparse forestland. The global demand for liquid biofuels more than tripled between 2000 and 2007 (IEA/OECD 2008). the fact that its development competes with food production. but will not affect transplanting of rice in the spring (DSE 2007. during the period from 2000–2006 (Wang 2007. Since 2007 over 50% of China’s petroleum consumption was imported. In the present review. Compared with wasteland listed in the above two studies.Biomass Energy Production on Marginal Land 113 increased rapidly from 410 M toe in 1978 to 1 863 M toe in 2007. Coal is the most important energy source in China. Kou et al. China cannot afford to produce bioenergy from its cropland. Rising coal consumption has caused an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and China became the biggest producer of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide in 2005 and 2008. we examine the feasibility and potential of using marginal land in biomass energy production.

On average. house surroundings.asp?ID=1591 www. Liao and Zhang 2000. such as upland. (2008) as well as land that is marginally located and not usually in use for food crops due to the smallness of size.oecd. such as slope gradient and type of riser built (Duan 1995. 1999. RRC varies in different types of land in Gansu Province: values range from 0. some 7 million hm2 can be considered available for energy crop use. The mean RRC is on the order of 0. respectively. Yan et al. terraced land covered an area of 1. Quantity of marginal land Marginal land has not attracted the attention of researchers until recently. Calculated using .744 million hm2 and land risers cover an area of 276 600 hm2 . in our analysis. 52 No.159. which is of little value because of some deficiency. Zhang et al. Sun 2005).235 for paddy land riser and rain-fed land riser. As pointed out already. or desert border.159 and 0. Yang et al. road side land. Since this region of Sichuan is characterized by a large proportion of paddy land and land with low slope gradients and the remaining regions have a much higher proportion of slopeland with steep slopes and rain-fed land.095 to 0. In most cases. these lands are not necessarily economically marginal but are usually profitable. (2008). scrubland. respectively. 2008 European Environmental Agency (EEA) www. land riser/boundary. which is difficult to cultivate. According to Yan et al. The total riser/boundary covers an area of 512 300 hm2 . or unclear ownership. or steep terrain Definition 4 Land whose value has been diminished due to some internal physical defect. eu/gemet/concept?ns=1&cp=5023 MoA (Ministry of Agriculture. Yang et al. and winter-fallowed paddy land are not regarded as marginal land in our analysis. such as poor access. 1998. 1999). a ratio of land riser/boundary to cropland (RRC) is used. 2008). sloping cropland.com Reference used.getsoldon. the cost to correct the flaw or condition is as much or more than the expected return from the property Definition 5 Definition 6 Definition 7 Low quality land the value of whose production barely covers its cultivation costs Marginal land is winter-followed paddy land and waste land that may be used to cultivate energy crops Marginal land refers to land currently not in use. include wasteland. Definition of marginal land Definition Definition 1 Definition 2 Definition 3 Land. A nation-wide survey.3 million hm2 of which 24 million hm2 are cultivable.com/ glossary. Marginal land will. or negative external condition.htm Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stats. large quantities of biomass energy can be generated. land riser/boundary occupies an area of 464 600 hm2 (Sun 2005).europa. 2008). the People’s Republic of China) www. Information relating to the quantity of land riser/boundary is limited and no national study has been conducted to estimate this resource.035 for terraced land. A study conducted in the central hilly region of southwestern Sichuan Province indicated that RRC is lower for paddy land than for rain-fed land: values were 0. organized by the Ministry of Agriculture. with poor natural condition but able grow plants. RRC is 0.092 for cropland in this province and. which is the mean RRC for central Sichuan. we will include those areas listed by Yan et al.evaluation-associates.114 Journal of Integrative Plant Biology Vol. In consideration of economic operation of transportation. therefore. land along highways/roads. 2008. Therefore. Sparse forestland. 0. except for a few regional studies (Xu et al. respectively (Kou et al. Therefore. lack of adequate rainfall. marginal land available for biomass production includes 82. earth risers are wider than rock risers. as much as 25% of cropland of the region (Liao and Zhang 2000). Based on available information. and flat cropland. the mean RRC would be higher than 0. on marginal land resources that may be used for energy crop production revealed an area of 34 million hm2 of which 7 million hm2 and 27 million hm2 are winterfallowed paddy land and wasteland marginal land. the quantity of marginal land is unclear although there are a few studies on the estimation of the quantity of marginal land resources within China (Kou et al. 2004. stream side land. It is not used in agricultural production but can grow certain plants Anonymous. In estimation of land riser/boundary quantity. in total. land riser regions may be comprised of earth or rock: generally.eionet. and which yields little profit Land of poor quality with regard to agricultural use and unsuitable for housing and other uses Land.207 3 for the region.207. etc. The quantity of land risers was estimated for terraced land. 1 2010 Table 1. The cropland area in Sichuan was 5 950 100 hm2 in 2007. In 2003.com/real-estate-glossary-m Answers. The value varies considerably in different regions and with various topographical factors.org/glossary/detail.

76 million hectares (MoLR 2009) and land riser/boundary would be 16.18 0. 2009). According to the Ministry of Transport. a company has contracted 50 km of highway in the Mianyang Municipality of Sichuan Province. While many new highways are under construction or planned to be built.75 million hm2 may be available for biomass production. no less than 1 m wide land from the constructed structure on each side of the highway/road is under the management of the road department.092 0.062–0. Given the rapid economic development that is currently occurring in China. Gansu Weinan.32 billion (NBSC 2008).092 0. 155 500 km of national highways. many trees do not grow well or survive after planting. Due to physical constraints. Cropland in China is 121. Heilongjiang Huating.07 0. ratio of land riser/boundary to cropland. 263 200 km of provincial highways.12 0. Shaanxi Kulun.207 0. at least half of the land riser/boundary would be available for bioenergy development.1 hectare in 2001 RRC. Based on the above estimates. In addition. (2001) Cao (2002). Shanxi Xinzhou. arable land and the population was 121.15 0.191) 0. the land riser/boundary would represent some 1 233 450 hectares. Currently. cropland is being lost every year to urbanization.288 (mean 0. the total length of highways/roads in China was 3. This provides another type of marginal land to produce biomass energy.07–0. a simple mean RRC value can be estimated (Table 2) and this value will be used to estimate the quantity of land riser/boundary of China. respectively.207.12–0.102 0.120 0. Conservatively. In 2008 alone. (2002) Sun and Li (2005) Sun (2005) Liao and Zhang (2000) Duan (1995) considered or managed for economic purposes. 672 000 km of special highways and 1 721 000 km of village roads (MoT 2009). (1998) Zhang et al. railways.716 million hm2 (MoLR 2009) and 1. Ratio of land risers to cropland (%) in different regions of China Region Longnan. Realizing the potential of this land resource for biomass energy production. In addition. 2009). In addition. there are also some 3 million hm2 of mining land that may also be used for this purpose (Huang et al. thus. Based on Highway/Road Management Regulations. Planting of trees along highways/roads is a common practice in China and is usually taken care of by the department of highways/roads. trees planted along highways/roads have not been Table 2.11 0. pers. most land river/boundary regions are not put in use. Gansu Lishi. Inner Mongolia Keshan. The company planted poplar and black locust along both sides of the highway: these trees grow rapidly (Figure 1) and can be harvested in five years (Bin Xu. the quantity of marginal land that could be used in biofuel production is in the order of 110 million hm2 . No information about river/stream bank and rural house surrounding land areas is available but our simple survey in Chengdu plain and Ningnan of Sichuan indicates that the land would be around at least half the land riser/boundary.13 0. Construction of highways/roads is a typical characteristic of infrastructure development in China and each year there are new highways/roads added to the transportation system. due to limited horticultural management practices. Gansu Gansu Central Sichuan basin Pingliang. hydroelectricity.10–0. of which around 45 million hm2 are of economical operation. (2002) Xiao (1995) Mao (2008) RRC Reference Zhang (2004) Zhu (1999) Wu (1999) Ren et al. Gansu Tianshui. the per capita cropland has decreased from 0. land along highways/roads and road sides can also be used to grow energy crops. 248 930 hm2 of cropland were lost to construction (191 600 ha).18 0. In 2008. many areas of China are not habitable and only around 13% of the land can be placed under cultivation. at the end of 2008. Based on 17 studies. As a result of increasing population and declining cropland.246 0. comm.20 0. Use of highway and road side land Apart from land riser/boundary land. 512 300 km of county highways. natural hazard (24 800 ha). land conversion (76 000 ha) and agricultural restructure (24 930 ha) (MoLR 2009). Heilongjiang Baiquan. each person has only about 900 m2 of cropland. etc. new factories.61 million hectares. However. (2004) Zhou (1994) Qu and Chu (1994) Wu et al.16 0. the quantity of land riser/boundary would be likely to be underestimated. . Wu et al. land conversion and natural hazards. infrastructure construction (highways.Biomass Energy Production on Marginal Land 115 the above RRC value of 0.12–0. many places have now become accessible by highway and many roads have also been upgraded in the past two decades. Ningxia Average 0. Gansu Qiaojia.129 0. Compared with the study in central Sichuan. Current use of marginal land China is the most populous country in the world with over 20% of the world’s population. (2002) Zhang et al. Yunnan Guyuan. over 99% of townships and 93% of administrative villages are now accessible by highway or road.).730 2 million kilometers. which means that at least 0. Shanxi Western Henan Liaoning (paddy land) Longdong.136 Xu et al. 101 110 km of township highways/roads.

huajiao (Zangthoxyllum bungeanum Maxim. etc. small yellow daylily (Hemerocallis minor Mill) and capsicum. a so-called model of “food from cropland and money from land risers”. (A) and (B) 3-year-old poplar trees. 2003. Growing soybean.) is the aromatic plant widely planted in southwestern China. Caragana korshinskii Kom. Tea is also planted in some areas.).. Astragalus adsurgens Pall.116 Journal of Integrative Plant Biology Vol. . However. Poplar..). Other plants include Tamarix ramossissima Ledeb. Fodder species include Lespedeza bicolor Turcz. Tang et al. Food security has been the first priority of both government and farmers. For example. feed or fiber. from sea level to the roof of the world. a wide range of plants are grown on land riser/boundary regions. to 0. 52 No.). Based on our experience.). in the areas with good rural economy. harvesting for biomass will occur in the fifth year after planting. few studies have been carried out on the status of marginal land usage. especially nitrogen fixing plants. ryegrass (Lolium perenne Linn.. 2003.). nepalensis D. common orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata Linn. alfalfa (Medicago sativa Linn. Apart from the above-mentioned plants grown mainly for economic purpose. & Zucc. Liao et al. 15% of land risers were in use in this province. 2009). Flemingia macrophylla Willd. Lespedeza bicolor. Cropland is mainly used to produce food. Based on the literature (Zhou 1994. like Leucaena leucocephala (Lam. In Ningnan county of Sichuan. while marginal land is for commodity production. and Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb. 2001. and mulberry (Morus alba Linn. Jiang et al. corktree (Phellodendron amurense Rupr. southern Shaanxi and southern Gansu. etc. sweet potatoes and vegetables on risers of paddy land is common in many regions of the country. Zhang et al. people in different regions have various ways of using marginal lands. 2004). Caragana korshinskii. Wang 2005) and our unpublished data.. papaya.. 1 2010 Figure 1. barbary wolfberry and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica Thunb.. Fruit trees include pear. 2004. Well managed land risers can yield high incomes. cypress (Cupressus funebris Endl.). 2009). Usually only a very small portion of arable land is in fallow. barbaru wolfberry (Lycium barbarum).).) Hook. Don). Amorpha fruticosa Linn. 2003. and Z. with the value falling to as low as 2% in other areas.) deWit.092 hectare in 2008 (MoLR 2003. Finally. Lu et al. Only mulberry plantation occurs on a large scale that is of national significance. Timber trees include paulownia (Paulownia spp). a rapidly growing tree.). that is. Medicinal plants cultivated on land risers are eucommia (Eucommia ulmoides Oliver). from tropical in the south to cold temperate in the north. 2001. On average. from humid subtropics in the east to desert in the northwest. Coriaria nepalensis Wall. As China covers a wide range of geographical zones. pears and mulberry trees planted on land risers can bring over 50% of household income (Tang et al. most land risers below 1 600 m are used to grow mulberry (Lu et al. are planted on land risers to reduce soil erosion (Tang et al. schinifolium Sieb. usually local farmers manage their cropland for food but land risers for cash income. is often planted along highways (courtesy of Bin Xu). Vegetables include tomatoes. most of the abovementioned plantations are on household or small to medium scale and are of only local or regional significance. Jiang et al.. alder (Alnus cremastogyne Burkill and A. Small per capita cropland has made farmers seek alternative land resources for agricultural purposes and land riser/boundary regions are usually given first consideration. Chinese date. Farmers have tried various ways to enhance land productivity and to increase benefits.. Sun (2005) studied the use of land risers in Gansu Province and found that only 25% of this resource was being used in some areas. apricot and grapes.. 2005. 2009). cropland is intensively managed. some other plants. Tephrosia candida DC. apples. Salix integra Thunb. poplar.

In the past. Consequently. road/highway. Mulberry was conventionally planted in croplands. 2009). 2008). To support such a high cocoon yield. house surroundings. The case study in Ningnan county of Sichuan Province provides a good example of how marginal land can be man- aged to produce sufficient fresh leaf biomass to support an annual cocoon yield of 6 000–7 000 tons and over 380 000 tons of dry matter biomass as a byproduct (Lu et al. Yan et al. If land riser/boundary. river and stream banks. like fodder. biogas and solar energy. While mulberry growth varies with physiological conditions. Development of a bioenergy industry that does not compete with food. like poplar. The most common biofuel source is corn in the USA and sugarcane in Brazil.85 million hm2 . But trees that can provide additional benefits. supporting a cocoon yield of 658 610 tons (Silk-online 2009) in 2008. may be considered and planted along highways/roads. cultivation of pure energy crops may not be the right solution for China. most of the branches pruned were used as wood fuel. it is important that such operations do not cause direct or indirect negative impacts on land use. Development of ligno-cellulosic ethanol provides an additional option of income generation for local farmers. A number of mulberry plantation models have been used in China.05 hm2 . In such a small area. land boundaries. cellulosic ethanol has gained an international importance. which yields 380 000 tons dry biomass (Lu et al. Cropland in this county was 12 063 hm2 and per capita cropland was only 0. the value for areas below 1 600 m above sea level. this practice has changed due to increased use of electricity. As a limited area of land is available for growing energy crops. and mining areas are considered. including land risers. 2009). 2008). two energy crops currently being promoted in the USA and Europe. Cultivation of mulberry is the basis of sericulture development. use of corn and sugarcane for bioethanol production competes with feed and food demands on grain supplies and this has been blamed for increases in grain price in the international market. 2008). 2000). Comparative advantages of biomass energy development on Chinese marginal lands Development of renewable energy has become one of the most important missions. The key factor driving local farmers to grow mulberry on almost all marginal land available is the income gained from the selling of cocoons and local government policies. a large quantity of mulberry trees needs to be planted. While use of arable cultivated land to grow dedicated energy . Pure energy trees. These wastelands may produce 45 million metric tons of liquid biofuel if 60% of this area is devoted to growing energy crops (Kou et al. The biomass produced by mulberry in this small county suggests a bright future for biomass energy from marginal land. However. (2008) estimated that the 24 million hm2 of marginal land would have the potential to generate 74 million metric tons annually of bioethanol (Yan et al. to this end. of which 27 million hm2 are wasteland marginal lands. 2009). sweet potato and sweet sorghum are likely to be the only candidates for bioenergy production in China.07 hm2 . In China mulberry plantations cover an area of 0. should also be seriously considered. sweet potato and sweet sorghum). However.Biomass Energy Production on Marginal Land 117 Potential of Marginal Land in Biomass Energy Production Ligno-cellulosic materials and non-food feedstock such as cassava. mulberry planted on marginal land is more advantageous because it does not compete with food and other cash crops. expansion of grain-ethanol will eventually be limited (Schmer et al. When the price of silk drops. these trees need to be pruned each year (Figure 3). feed and fiber production must be promoted. Most of the branches were in excess of the local needs and no longer used as fuel. mulberry planted on cropland will be replaced by food crops or other cash crops. Mulberry is a good example in this regard. as much as 6 000 tons of cocoons were produced in 2004. At least in the medium term. etc. waste slopeland. worldwide. Almost all mulberry plants in this region are grown on marginal land (Figure 2). and increasing mulberry planting. however. another 33 million metric tons would be produced per annum. Bioenergy applications should maximize the efficiency with which a given land area is used to meet both energy and income generation goals (Campbell et al. The annual biomass yield of mulberry is comparable to switchgrass (11–19 tons/ha) (McLaughlin and Kszos 2005) and miscanthus in Europe (Lewandowski et al. liquefied petroleum gas. selection and use of multipurpose trees to produce biomass energy is crucial for the success of this program. in which biomass energy is an important byproduct of the main agricultural enterprise. where silkworm rearing is common to most households is 0. trees planted on marginal land will not be replaced. The United Nations has stated that production of biofuel from corn has caused shortages in world food supply (FAO 2008). The MoA survey revealed an area of 34 million hm2 of marginal land available for growing energy crops. Use of multipurpose trees in biomass energy production As we can see from the proceeding sections. Focused on non-food starch or sugar feedstock (cassava. the case study in Ningnan supports the notion that mulberry grown on marginal land can produce large quantities of biomass with appropriate management. Biomass energy production should be incorporated with development of other sectors.

(B) Mulberry tree stumps (yellow arrows) after annual pruning. (D) Mulberry planted along road-side boundaries. (B) Mulberry cultivated on land risers and along river banks. Use of marginal land is the most likely option for ligno-cellulose bioenergy production in China and would be socio-economically acceptable and viable. Biofuels feedstock provided by annual pruning of mulberry trees. . will be difficult because of Figure 3. (A) One-year-old mulberry branches prior to annual pruning. Mechanical harvesting of biomass from marginal land. to serve the biofuels industry. (C) Mulberry production based on slopeland use. (A) Trees grown on land risers. 52 No. and miscanthus and willows in Europe. China will not be able to use cropland for this purpose because of the small per capita cropland. Mulberry grown on marginal lands. is profitable. like switchgrass and miscanthus in the USA.118 Journal of Integrative Plant Biology Vol. crops. 1 2010 Figure 2.

but the constraint is a lack of direct economic benefit. In addition. 2001). Enhancing rural employment and improving rural economy The Chinese rural economy is underdeveloped and has become a problem of national significance. agriculture in China is characterized by small farms.3–0. is covered by small weed plants that contribute little in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas emission. Future Directions Development of bioenergy in China is an emerging industry and much basic knowledge is lacking. which has the potential to substantially reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.. collapse and washing out of land risers remains a serious problem in many areas of the country. each household will have no less than 10 tons of mulberry biomass in excess of need. Second. First. Screening and selection of multipurpose energy crop species will be of paramount importance. Biodiversity conservation Harvesting wood for fuel is regarded as a major threat to natural forests. Increased fodder production would increase livestock rearing. China has a large rural population and the biofuels industry has the potential to provide employment and thereby contributes to the improvement of rural economy. thereby enriching the environment. Studies should also be carried out on the mechanisms and efficacies of different energy crops in terms of carbon sequestration. 2009). pers. growing energy crops on these lands will also provide habitats to wildlife. 2009. whether in China or elsewhere. data. unpubl. In addition. In our study in a remote county of southwestern Sichuan Province of China. it replaces fossil energy with a renewable energy source. thereby reducing soil loss (Wang and Li 1998. farming practices will rely on manual labor. Clearly. transportation is one important consideration in terms of cost reduction. sustainable and commercially viable ligno-cellulosic biofuels industry will take time. Y Tang et al. Most marginal land may become a sink of carbon dioxide when it is cultivated with energy crops. Planting of cash crops or economic trees is common in some regions and studies have indicated that trees or crops planted on land risers helps in their stabilization. Xiong and Liao 1999) and terracing is an operation promoted in China as the main measure to reduce soil erosion of such land. growing energy crops on marginal land has additional environmental benefits. Studies to optimize pruning timing and frequency. pruning takes place when the land is already under cultivation with wheat or rapeseeds. comm. large areas of sloping agricultural land have now been terraced. with some 40% of the 3. Sloping agricultural land is the main source of sedimentation of rivers in China (Li 1999.. Finally. As marginal lands will be central to China’s program. the development of an efficient. mechanical harvesting can be used for this biomass production system (Bin Xu. Production of biomass energy from marginal lands can meet the household energy demands without the need to extract wood from forests.5 billion m3 of wood removed from forests annually being used for fuel (FAO 2005). when multipurpose trees are planted. for example. the development of optimal energy crop agronomic systems will likely require the use of modern molecular biology tools to generate plants with elite traits for biofuels production. Importantly. Planting trees along highways/roads is advantageous over many other options. it sequesters carbon in the course of plant growth. Trees planted along highways/roads can be harvested and replanted on an approximately 5 year cycle and transportation centralized biofuel production plants will be efficient. the average farm size is around 0. Each household has both manpower and time to manage marginal land-based biomass energy production. Wood for fuel comprises a large portion of wood consumption. which otherwise . Consequently. Indeed. Mitigating global warming Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one main consideration in bioenergy development as it impacts two processes. Wu 1999).Biomass Energy Production on Marginal Land 119 topographical and agronomic constraints in China. which can be sold. as well as the development of efficient fertilizer regimes for each specific energy crop will be required. our preliminary observations have indicated that the first harvest can be made in 5 years and subsequently every 3–4 years up to 20 years. as in Ningnan (Lu et al. Various energy crops will need to be tested within the context of different agroecological regions. Development of a biomass/biofuels industry centered on marginal land would provide options for economic development in rural areas. 2009). However. In particular. Growing dense nitrogen fixing plants can effectively reduce soil loss by over 95% (Tang et al. it will be essential that research programs pay close attention to the following topics. the rural economy will be improved in different ways. Selling of biomass will increase household income. bringing additional income (Lu et al. In the biomass production process. Environmental Benefits of Biomass Energy Production on Marginal Land While it is widely accepted that use of biofuels will help mitigate such environmental problems as global warming and air pollution. 2009).6 ha. In this system.

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