This study investigated the water resource potential for bioenergy production from sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.)) in Northern China according to the distribution of water resources, climate conditions and the total water consumption of bioenergy based on sweet sorghum, which consisted of blue water, green water and grey water. At a case study site in Inner Mongolia, simulation with a plant phenological model was used to determine whether sweet sorghum could reach the harvestable stage for sugar juice production. The blue water in the agricultural phase was estimated according to the potential crop evapotranspiration (ETc), the drought sensitivity of sweet sorghum in different stages and the precipitation during the growing season. The results showed that the irrigation water was significantly different among the districts, ranging from 730 to 5500 m3/ha and 2060 to 6680 m3/ha for early-maturing and late-maturing varieties, respectively. To avoid the water pressure level to be exacerbated and the severe reallocation of water resources resulting in negative effects on other sectors, the maximal annual water withdrawal was set to not surpass the upper threshold of water stress level of 40%. That makes the maximum area for the production of sweet sorghum cannot exceed 1.95 × 104 ha, representing only 0.24% of the total marginal land area in Inner Mongolia. However, the economic benefits of bioenergy production from sweet sorghum would be negative due to the high labour input. Therefore, not only the availability of marginal land, the climate conditions and local water resources but also the improvement of mechanisation and agricultural production techniques should be considered to attain the sustainable development of bioenergy production and address global energy and environmental crises.
- Arid and semi-arid conditions
- Marginal lands
- Sweet sorghum
- Water resource potential