Assessing the comparative productivity advantage of bioenergy feedstocks at different latitudes

Carlisle F Runge, John J. Sheehan, Benjamin H Senauer, Jonathan Foley, James S Gerber, Justin A Johnson, Stephen Polasky, Carlisle Piehl Runge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We evaluate the comparative productivity of maize and sugarcane biofuel feedstocks as a function of latitude. Solar radiation for photosynthesis varies by latitude and contributes to differential productivity of tropical and temperate zones. We calculate comparative productivity in two ways - the amount of net sugar energy produced per unit area, and the amount produced per unit of net primary productivity (NPP). NPP measures the accumulation of energy in an ecosystem and can be used as a proxy for the capacity of an ecosystem to support biodiversity and a broader array of ecosystem services. On average sugarcane produces three times more energy per unit area than does maize. The comparative productivity advantage of sugarcane decreases with increases in latitude. Latitudes closer to the equator have higher NPP, so there is a greater trade-off between biofuel production and ecosystem productivity in the equatorial zones. The comparative productivity of sugarcane relative to maize is reduced when comparing biofuel energy per unit of NPP. Sugarcane is still twice as productive on average compared to maize in the amount of biofuel energy produced per unit of NPP. Regions near the equator have lower biofuel energy per unit NPP, making them less attractive for biofuels production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number045906
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • biofuels
  • comparative productivity
  • ecosystem services
  • latitude
  • maize
  • net energy
  • net primary productivity
  • sugarcane


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