Abandoned cropland (A) and year of maximum cropland area (B)
Figure 1. Abandoned cropland (A) and year of maximum cropland area (B). Abandoned cropland areas are presented as the fraction of county area and are total abandoned areas not excluding conversion to forest or urban areas.
Bioenergy has the unique potential to provide a dispatchable and carbon-negative component to renewable energy portfolios. However, the sustainability, spatial distribution, and capacity for bioenergy are critically dependent on highly uncertain land-use impacts of biomass agriculture. Biomass cultivation on abandoned agriculture lands is thought to reduce land-use impacts relative to biomass production on currently used croplands. While coarse global estimates of abandoned agriculture lands have been used for large-scale bioenergy assessments, more practical technological and policy applications will require regional, high-resolution information on land availability. Here, we present US county-level estimates of the magnitude and distribution of abandoned cropland and potential bioenergy production on this land using remote sensing data, agriculture inventories, and land-use modeling. These abandoned land estimates are 61% larger than previous estimates for the US, mainly due to the coarse resolution of data applied in previous studies. We apply the land availability results to consider the capacity of biomass electricity to meet the seasonal energy storage requirement in a national energy system that is dominated by wind and solar electricity production. Bioenergy from abandoned croplands can supply most of the seasonal storage needs for a range of energy production scenarios, regions, and biomass yield estimates. These data provide the basis for further down-scaling using models of spatially gridded land-use areas as well as a range of applications for the exploration of bioenergy sustainability.