Mapping the yields of lignocellulosic bioenergy crops from observations at the global scale

Most scenarios from integrated assessment models (IAMs) that project greenhouse gas emissions include the use of bioenergy as a means to reduce CO2 emissions or even to achieve negative emissions (together with CCS – carbon capture and storage). The potential amount of CO2 that can be removed from the atmosphere depends, among others, on the yields of bioenergy crops, the land available to grow these crops and the efficiency with which CO2 produced by combustion is captured. While bioenergy crop yields can be simulated by models, estimates of the spatial distribution of bioenergy yields under current technology based on a large number of observations are currently lacking. In this study, a random-forest (RF) algorithm is used to upscale a bioenergy yield dataset of 3963 observations covering Miscanthus, switchgrass, eucalypt, poplar and willow using climatic and soil conditions as explanatory variables.

The results are global yield maps of five important lignocellulosic bioenergy crops under current technology, climate and atmospheric CO2 conditions at a 0.5×0.5 spatial resolution. We also provide a combined “best bioenergy crop” yield map by selecting one of the five crop types with the highest yield in each of the grid cells, eucalypt and Miscanthus in most cases. The global median yield of the best crop is 16.3 t DM ha−1 yr−1 (DM – dry matter). High yields mainly occur in the Amazon region and southeastern Asia. We further compare our empirically derived maps with yield maps used in three IAMs and find that the median yields in our maps are > 50 % higher than those in the IAM maps.

Our estimates of gridded bioenergy crop yields can be used to provide bioenergy yields for IAMs, to evaluate land surface models or to identify the most suitable lands for future bioenergy crop plantations.


PBL Authors
Elke Stehfest Detlef van Vuuren Jonathan Doelman
Other authors
Wei Li
Philippe Ciais
Alexander Popp
Almut Arneth
Fulvio Di Fulvio
Florian Humpenöder
Anna B. Harper
Taejin Park
David Makowski1
Petr Havlik
Michael Obersteiner
Jingmeng Wang
Andreas Krause
Wenfeng Liu


Publication title
Mapping the yields of lignocellulosic bioenergy crops from observations at the global scale
Publication date
2 April 2020
Publication type
Publication language
Earth System Science Data
Volume 12, issue 2
Product number