February 4, 2010 – "Bioenergy, Biodiversity, Food and Global Change Mitigation: Can we have it all?"
Stephen Long, Professor of Crop Sciences, Robert Emerson Professor, and Resident Scientist for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Brazil has successfully replaced over 40% of its petroleum with ethanol in a largely and increasingly renewable manner, and without impact on staple crops. Can the USA do the same? Although the USA currently produces more ethanol, the current system based on corn lacks sustainability or carbon mitigation, with significant negative indirect effects on global biodiversity and animal feed supply. The emergence of technical capacity to convert celluloses to fuels, opens the use of a much wider range of plant feedstocks that can be grown in our climate, and including plants that can be grown on abandoned land or land unsuited to agriculture. Proposed feedstocks range from restored prairie to highly productive monocultures of perennial energy grasses and trees, depending on the location. Facts indicate that the latter solution on abandoned or degraded agricultural land may come closest to allowing the USA to address all four areas of the title.
Steve Long's research has concerned maximizing plant photosynthetic productivity from the molecular to the field level, both via theoretical modeling and field scale experimental manipulations. He has identified what appear to be the most naturally productive plants both in the tropics and in the temperate zone, and much of his work has focused on identifying the attributes that set these plants apart. He obtained his B.Sc. (1st Class) in Agricultural Botany from the University of Reading, Ph.D. in Environmental Physiology from the University of Leeds, and D.Sc. (honoris causa) in Envrionmental Science from the University of Lancaster. He is Founding and Chief Editor of Global Change Biology, which has risen to be one of the most highly cited journals in environmental science. This year he launched a spin-off journal, GCB-Bioenergy. Long has been a contributing author and referee for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Assessment Reports and has served on advisory committees for research on global climate change mitigation and adaptation to UNEP, the EU, UK Research Councils, USDA and the US Department of Energy. Long is Deputy Director of the UC Berkeley/University of Illinois Energy Bioscience Institute – which was awarded $500M over 10 years by BP in February 2007. A mission of the Institute is to develop environmentally and economically sustainable biofuel systems beyond corn ethanol and soy diesel, which do not conflict with food production.