Spatial optimization of cropping pattern for sustainable food and biofuel production with minimal downstream pollution

P. V. Femeena, K. P. Sudheer, R. Cibin, I. Chaubey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Biofuel has emerged as a substantial source of energy in many countries. In order to avoid the ‘food versus fuel competition’, arising from grain-based ethanol production, the United States has passed regulations that require second generation or cellulosic biofeedstocks to be used for majority of the biofuel production by 2022. Agricultural residue, such as corn stover, is currently the largest source of cellulosic feedstock. However, increased harvesting of crops residue may lead to increased application of fertilizers in order to recover the soil nutrients lost from the residue removal. Alternatively, introduction of less-fertilizer intensive perennial grasses such as switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus Greef et Deu.) can be a viable source for biofuel production. Even though these grasses are shown to reduce nutrient loads to a great extent, high production cost have constrained their wide adoptability to be used as a viable feedstock. Nonetheless, there is an opportunity to optimize feedstock production to meet bioenergy demand while improving water quality. This study presents a multi-objective simulation optimization framework using Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) and Multi Algorithm Genetically Adaptive Method (AMALGAM) to develop optimal cropping pattern with minimum nutrient delivery and minimum biomass production cost. Computational time required for optimization was significantly reduced by loose coupling SWAT with an external in-stream solute transport model. Optimization was constrained by food security and biofuel production targets that ensured not more than 10% reduction in grain yield and at least 100 million gallons of ethanol production. A case study was carried out in St. Joseph River Watershed that covers 280,000 ha area in the Midwest U.S. Results of the study indicated that introduction of corn stover removal and perennial grass production reduce nitrate and total phosphorus loads without compromising on food and biofuel production. Optimization runs yielded an optimal cropping pattern with 32% of watershed area in stover removal, 15% in switchgrass and 2% in Miscanthus. The optimal scenario resulted in 14% reduction in nitrate and 22% reduction in total phosphorus from the baseline. This framework can be used as an effective tool to take decisions regarding environmentally and economically sustainable strategies to minimize the nutrient delivery at minimal biomass production cost, while simultaneously meeting food and biofuel production targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-209
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Apr 15 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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