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Assessment and quantification of marginal lands for biomass production in Europe using soil quality indicators

The cultivation of bioenergy plants at fertile, arable lands increasingly results in new land use conflicts with food production and cannot be considered as sustainable, therefore. Marginal lands have been frequently considered as potential alternative for producing bioenergy from biomass. However, clear definitions and assessment methods for selecting marginal lands and for calculating potentials are still widely missing. The project "SEEMLA" aims at triggering the exploitation of currently underused marginal lands for biomass production for energy purposes. Study sites have been selected in different European countries: Germany, Greece and Ukraine.

The selected sites represent a wide variety of different types of marginal lands. Based on a soil assessment set given by the Muencheberg Soil Quality Rating (SQR) system potentially "marginal" sites have been investigated. The SQR system allows for clearly distinguishing between soils of higher and lower quality. Soils with SQR scores below 40 are regarded as "marginal". They can be classified into different groups with regard to the importance of soil hazard indicators as valuated by the SQR approach.

The calculated SQR scores correlate significantly with biomass yields of bioenergy plants. Further, the SQR method was adapted for use in a GIS study on marginal land potentials in Europe. 46 % of the investigated European area could be classified as "marginal" with SQR scores below 40. From that area 22.6 % can be considered as potentially suitable for producing renewable resources after eliminating protected sites or other places not suitable for any kind of land use.

Taking the ecological demands of selected bioenergy plants into account it is possible to give first preliminary recommendations for regional crop cultivation. It can be concluded, that Europe offers a large potential for renewable resources from marginal sites. However, the implementation into practice is often impeded by missing or varying policies and regulation. A proper implementation needs clear regulations and also incentives for farmers at European level.