Over two million hectares of marginal land in the Northeast USA no longer used for agriculture may be suitable and available for production of second-generation cellulosic bioenergy crops, offering the potential for increased regional bioenergy production without competing with food production on prime farmland. Current yields of perennial bioenergy grasses and short-rotation woody crops range from 2.3 to 17.4 and 4.5 to 15.5 Mg/ha, respectively, and there is great potential for increased yields. Regional advantages for bioenergy development include abundant water resources, close proximity between production and markets, and compatibility of bioenergy cropping systems with existing agriculture. As New York and New England (a subset of the Northeast region) account for ~85 % of the nation’s heating oil consumption, production of bioheat, biopower, and combined heat and power could substantially reduce the region’s dependence on imported petroleum. While numerous grassroots efforts are underway in the region across supply chains, bioenergy development faces several challenges and unknowns in terms of environmental impact, production, yields, socioeconomics, and policy. We explore the opportunities for second-generation bioenergy production on the unused marginal lands of the Northeast USA and discuss the challenges to be addressed to promote sustainable bioenergy production on the region’s underutilized marginal land base.
- Marginal land
- Northeast USA
- Perennial grass
- Second-generation bioenergy feedstocks
- Short-rotation woody crops