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Climate change is an urgent threat to societies around the world, driven by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil. One of the most effective ways to curb emissions is to replace these energy sources with others that are carbon neutral or even carbon negative — that is, technologies that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they put in.
Bioenergy, or energy derived from organic matter, usually plants, is an attractive option. The U.S. already derives 5 percent of transportation fuel from bioenergy, mostly corn. Even jet fuel could be produced from specially engineered crops, potentially balancing out 3 percent of the world’s human-made emissions.
Because the world population and its demand for food continues to rise, there might not be enough conventional farmland to grow crops for both food and bioenergy. One solution is to grow bioenergy crops on marginal land, which isn’t good enough to grow food. The logical conundrum: If this soil isn’t good, how can we grow anything on it that is reasonably productive?