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Journal of Geographical Sciences    2018, Vol. 28 Issue (11) : 1567-1579     DOI: 10.1007/s11442-018-1561-2
Special Issue: Land system dynamics: Pattern and process |
Global prioritisation of renewable nitrogen for biodiversity conservation and food security
Eisner ROWAN1(),SEABROOK Leonie2,MCALPINE Clive2
1. University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, Cambridge CB2 3QZ, UK
2. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, UQ, QLD 4072, Australia
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The continuing use of petrochemicals in mineral nitrogen (N) production may be affected by supply or cost issues and climate agreements. Without mineral N, a larger area of cropland is required to produce the same amount of food, impacting biodiversity. Alternative N sources include solar and wind to power the Haber-Bosch process, and the organic options such as green manures, marine algae and aquatic azolla. Solar power was the most land-efficient renewable source of N, with using a tenth as much land as wind energy, and at least 100th as much land as organic sources of N. In this paper, we developed a decision tree to locate these different sources of N at a global scale, or the first time taking into account their spatial footprint and the impact on terrestrial biodiversity while avoiding impact on albedo and cropland, based on global resource and impact datasets. This produced relatively few areas suitable for solar power in the western Americas, central southern Africa, eastern Asia and southern Australia, with areas most suited to wind at more extreme latitudes. Only about 2% of existing solar power stations are in very suitable locations. In regions such as coastal north Africa and central Asia where solar power is less accessible due to lack of farm income, green manures could be used, however, due to their very large spatial footprint only a small area of low productivity and low biodiversity was suitable for this option. Europe in particular faces challenges because it has access to a relatively small area which is suitable for solar or wind power. If we are to make informed decisions about the sourcing of alternative N supplies in the future, and our energy supply more generally, a decision-making mechanism is needed to take global considerations into account in regional land-use planning.

Keywords concentrated solar      ammonia synthesis      biofixation     
Issue Date: 21 December 2018
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Eisner ROWAN
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Eisner ROWAN,SEABROOK Leonie,MCALPINE Clive. Global prioritisation of renewable nitrogen for biodiversity conservation and food security[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2018, 28(11): 1567-1579.
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Variable Reason for inclusion Data Threshold Reference
Biodiversity To assess impact Ecoregional biodiversity indices 0.1064 Kier et al., 2009
Commercial cropland Space constraint for N production Cropland-yield gap >20% Monfreda et al., 2008
Green manure Farm income to purchase fertilisers. Yield gap > area required to grow N Yield gap 0.513 Monfreda et al., 2008
Sun Most land efficient DNI for concentrated solar NASA SWERE 4.93 NASA, 2011
Deign, 2012
Wind Second most land efficient NASA SSE 5.5 ms-1 NASA, 2005
Blankenhorn and
Resch, 2014
Albedo Solar power can contribute to global warming at high albedo sites Albedo (1 month) Reflectance values
lowest 20% (albedo 0.35)
NASA Earth Observations, 2016
Nemet, 2009
Wetland rice Azolla valuable N source, no land cost Presence/absence Salmon et al., 2015
Aquaculture Data not found N.A.
Seaweed No land cost Coastal zone 40km Natural Earth, 2016
Table 1  Data sources used for mapping N source prioritisation.
Figure 1  Process for developing maps for selecting sources of N production most suitable at each location
Figure 2  Decision matrix (a) and decision trees (b) for siting N sources
Figure 3  Sites most suitable for solar power, and the location of existing solar power stations
Figure 4  Sites most suitable for wind power. These are mostly at very high and very low latitudes.
Figure 5  Locations suitable for organic nitrogen sources: green manures, seaweed and azolla
Figure 6  Regions where it is preferable to import N rather than compete with crops or biodiversity, or where high biodiversity makes N production unsuitable
Figure 7  Sources of N for cropping prioritised for biodiversity and cropland conservation. Solar is the most land-efficient option, but is highly suitable in relatively few regions due to completion with biodiversity or cropping or reducing the albedo of the site, contributing to global warming. Organics are very land inefficient for N production so are only suited for use on land with low productivity and low biodiversity.
Figure 8  Three regions with a wide range of options for sourcing N, a) Caucasia and surrounding region, b) Japan, China, Koreas and c) Uruguay region. In contrast, Europe (d) has a paucity of options. Europe has little area highly suitable for solar or wind because of competing land use and biodiversity and lack of solar resource. The Sahara desert is not selected for solar power because the decrease in albedo would contribute to global warming.
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