Urban marginal land can be used for growing high yield bioenergy crops such as miscanthus and poplar. Matthew J. Eckelman, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and co-author Mithun Saha, created a GIS-based modeling framework to assess potential urban marginal lands in Boston that include vacant lands and under-utilized public and private areas with adequate soil quality and sunlight.

Using ArcGIS model builder as a spatial analysis tool, land parcels were screened for typical urban features such as buildings, driveways, parking lots, water and protected areas. The resultant layer was subjected to bio-geophysical modeling that includes soil quality, slope analysis and finally shadow analysis. Approximately 2660 ha of potential marginal land was identified as suitable, representing 24 percent of total land area in Boston.

Using crop yield information, it was estimated that this marginal land could be used to produce up to a total of nearly 42,130 tons of high yield short rotation poplar biomass in a regular growing season. Also, bioenergy potential calculation revealed that for short rotation poplar, this amount of biomass can potentially yield up to 745 TJ (LHV) to 830 (HHV) TJ of yearly primary energy for the city of Boston that can be used for heat or electricity production, particularly for microgrid or district heating applications. This is equivalent to ∼0.6 percent of Massachusetts primary energy demand for 2012.

Ongoing work will explore other urban regions of Massachusetts and the Eastern U.S. that might be able to fulfill part of their energy demand locally while providing benefits in environmental quality, economic development, and urban resilience.

Read Geospatial assessment of potential bioenergy crop production on urban marginal land.