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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  06 Jul 2020

06 Jul 2020

Review status
A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Global scenarios of irrigation water use for bioenergy production: a systematic review

Fabian Stenzel1,2,3,4, Dieter Gerten1,2,3, and Naota Hanasaki5 Fabian Stenzel et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Member of the Leibniz Association, P.O. Box 60 12 03, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of Geography, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany
  • 3Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin,Germany
  • 4International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), Schlossplatz 1, 2361 Laxenburg, Austria
  • 5National Institute for Environmental Studies, 16-2 Onogawa, Tsukuba-City, Ibaraki, 305-8506 Japan

Abstract. Many scenarios of future climate evolution and its anthropogenic drivers include considerable amounts of bioenergy as fuel source, negative emission technology, or for final energy production. The associated freshwater requirements for irrigation of dedicated biomass plantations might be substantial and therefore potentially increase water limitation and stress in affected regions; however, assumptions and quantities of water use provided in the literature vary strongly. This paper reviews existing global assessments of freshwater requirements for such bioenergy production and puts these estimates into the context of scenarios for other water use sectors. We scanned the available literature and (out of 430 initial hits) found 16 publications (partly including several scenarios) with reported values on global water demand for irrigation of biomass plantations, suggesting a range of 125–11,350 km3 yr−1 water use (consumption), compared to about 1,100–11,600 km3 yr−1 for other (agricultural, industrial, and domestic) water withdrawals. To provide an understanding of the origins of this large range, we present the diverse underlying assumptions, discuss major study differences, and make the freshwater amounts involved comparable by estimating the original biomass harvests from reported final energy or negative emissions. We conclude that due to the potentially high water demands and the trade-offs that might go along with them, bioenergy should be an integral part of global assessments of freshwater demand and use. For interpreting and comparing reported estimates of possible future bioenergy water demands, full disclosure of parameters and assumptions is crucial. A minimum set should include annual blue water consumption and withdrawal, bioenergy crop species, rainfed as well as irrigated bioenergy plantation locations (including total area), and total bioenergy harvest amounts.

Fabian Stenzel et al.

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Fabian Stenzel et al.

Fabian Stenzel et al.


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Latest update: 25 Oct 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Ideas to mitigate climate change include the large scale cultivation of fast growing plants to capture atmospheric CO2 in biomass. To maximize the productivity of these plants, they will likely be irrigated. However there is strong disagreement in the literature on how much irrigation water is globally needed, potentially inducing water stress. We provide a comprehensive overview of global irrigation demand studies for biomass production and discuss the diverse underlying study assumptions.
Ideas to mitigate climate change include the large scale cultivation of fast growing plants to...