Integration of bioenergy systems into UK agriculture-New options for management of nitrogen flows
Journal article, 2013
The large flow of reactive nitrogen (N) through agriculture causes negative environmental impacts, pointing to a need for changes in agricultural practices. At the same time, agriculture is expected to provide biomass to support the increasing demand from the UK bioenergy sector. A high-level aggregated model of the agricultural system in the UK was developed, which maintains the existing level of food and livestock production and at the same time increases N recirculation. Integrating three different bioenergy sub-systems into the agricultural system was an essential component of the model development. Cellulosic bioenergy crops were located in the landscape as vegetation filters to intercept and capture N and thereby reduce N leaching. Efficient collection and digestion of manure produced organic N fertiliser and biogas. Efficient forage production for cattle allowed further cultivation of bioenergy plants. Five implementation scenarios were developed to clarify the contribution of these bioenergy sub-systems to improved N management. The results point to a significant potential for improving the productive use of reactive N and for decreasing N losses to water and air. The interception and recirculation of N presently leaching from arable fields is assessed as the most important option. It is also important to increase recirculation of N in manure and in bioenergy system by-flows. Besides mitigating the environmental impacts of agriculture these measures reduce the requirements for newly synthesised N fertilisers. A systems perspective on N, agriculture, and bioenergy systems facilitates N recirculation and promotes effective N use, reducing the need for additional N inputs.