Uncertain effectiveness of Miscanthus bioenergy expansion for climate change mitigation explored using land surface, agronomic and integrated assessment models

Emma Littleton* (Corresponding Author), Anita Shepherd, Anna Harper, Astley Hastings, Naomi E. Vaughan, Jonathan Doelman, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Timothy M. Lenton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Large-scale bioenergy plays a key role in climate change mitigation scenarios, but its efficacy is uncertain. We quantify that uncertainty by contrasting the results of three different types of models under the same mitigation scenario (RCP2.6-SSP2), consistent with a 2 °C temperature target. We focus on a single bioenergy feedstock, Miscanthus x giganteus, and contrast projections for its yields and environmental effects from: an integrated assessment model (IMAGE), a land surface and dynamic global vegetation model tailored to Miscanthus bioenergy (JULES) and a bioenergy crop model (MiscanFor). Under the present climate, JULES, IMAGE and MiscanFor capture the observed magnitude and variability in Miscanthus yields across Europe; yet in the tropics JULES and IMAGE predict high yields, whereas MiscanFor predicts widespread drought-related diebacks. 2040-49 projections show there is a rapid scale up of over 200 Mha bioenergy cropping area in the tropics. Resulting biomass yield ranges from 12
(MiscanFor) to 39 (JULES) Gt dry matter over that decade. Change in soil carbon ranges from +0.7 Pg C (MiscanFor) to -2.8 Pg C (JULES), depending on preceding land cover and soil carbon.2090-99 projections show large-scale biomass energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is projected in Europe. The models agree that <2 °C global warming will increase yields in the higher latitudes, but drought stress in the Mediterranean region could produce low yields (MiscanFor), and significant losses of soil carbon (JULES, IMAGE). These results highlight the uncertainty in rapidly scaling-up biomass energy supply, especially in dry tropical climates and in regions where future climate change could result in drier conditions. This has important policy implications – because prominently-used scenarios to limit warming to “well below 2 °C” (including the one we explore) depend upon its effectiveness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-318
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology. Bioenergy
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

This work is part of FAB GGR (Feasibility of Afforestation and Biomass energy with carbon capture and storage for Greenhouse Gas Removal), a project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/P019951/1), part of a wider Greenhouse Gas Removal research programme. Model development of MiscanFor was also made possible as part of the UKERC (UK Energy Research Centre) Phase 4 research programme, funded by UKRI(EP/S029575/1), and ADVENT (ADdressing
Valuation of Energy and Nature Together) and ADVANCES funded by NERC (NE/M019691/1)


  • bioenergy
  • climate change
  • crop modelling
  • DGVM
  • integrated assessment model
  • miscanthus
  • SOIL


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