The role of soils in provision of energy

Jo Smith* (Corresponding Author), Jenny Farmer, Pete Smith, Dali Nayak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Soils have both direct and indirect impacts on available energy, but energy provision, in itself, has direct and indirect impacts on soils. Burning peats provides only ~0.02% global energy supply yet emits ~(0.7-0.8)% carbon losses from land use change and forestry (LUCF). Bioenergy crops provide ~0.3% energy supply and occupy ~(0.2-0.6)% harvested area. Increased bioenergy demand is likely to encourage switching from forests and pastures to rotational energy cropping, resulting in soil carbon loss. However, with protective policies, incorporation of residues from energy provision could sequester ~0.4% LUCF carbon losses. All organic wastes available in 2018 could provide ~10% global energy supply, but at a cost to soils of ~5% LUCF carbon losses; not using manures avoids soil degradation but reduces energy provision to ~9%. Wind farms, hydroelectric solar and geothermal schemes provide ~3.66% of energy supply and occupy less than ~0.3% harvested area, but if sited on peatlands could result in carbon losses that exceed reductions in fossil fuel emissions. To ensure renewable energy provision does not damage our soils, comprehensive policies and management guidelines are needed that (1) avoid peats, (2) avoid converting permanent land uses (such as perennial grassland or forestry) to energy cropping and (3) return residues remaining from energy conversion processes to the soil
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1834
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

The inputs of J.S. and D.N. contributes to the Newton Bhabha Virtual Centre on Nitrogen Efficiency in Whole Cropping Systems (NEWS) project no. NEC 05724, the DFID-NERC El Niño programme in project NE P004830, ‘Building Resilience in Ethiopia’s Awassa Region to Drought’ (BREAD), the ESRC NEXUS programme in project IEAS/POO2501/1, ‘Improving Organic Resource Use in Rural Ethiopia’ (IPORE), and the GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub (NE/S009019/1). The input of J.F. and J.S. contributes to the NERC funded Global Methane project, MOYA (NE/N016211/1). The input of P.S. contributes to the UKRI-funded projects DEVIL (NE/M021327/1), Soils-R-GRREAT (NE/P019455/1) and N-Circle (BB/N013484/1), the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research
and Innovation Programme projects CIRCASA (grant agreement no. 774378) and UNISECO (grant agreement no. 773901), and the Wellcome Trust-funded project Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS).


  • Soils
  • energy provision
  • peat burning
  • organic wastes
  • crop residues
  • organic manures


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