Biofuels Backlash, But Wait

It should probably tell me something that my most popular post so far has been about Valentine’s day and looooove, but I’m going to ponder that later and talk about biofuels now. A new study by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy adds up the total life cycle impact of crop biofuels- like corn and whatever else is grown specifically on converted or agricultural land to make fuel, not food- is actually worse than fossil fuels in terms of carbon production. Yup, apparently ethanol is bad (please remove corn subsidies already, Washington?).

So if biofuels- or at least the ones we’re growing now- are such a bad idea, how come we didn’t notice before? Partly it was due to a failure to predict the effect of converting huge areas of land from food production to fuel production- drives up food prices worldwide, and invokes deforestation and land clearing to create new agricultural land to grow more of the displaced food crops or the new fuel crops- which tend to be heavily subsidized, thus very profitable.

The NYT article on the studies doesn’t heavily emphasize the different types of biofuels used as energy resources, so it’s easy to come away with the impression that all biofuels are bad.  Not so! The Nature Conservency interviews an author on the paper, Joe Fargione:

Although there is no silver bullet to solve climate change, there are many silver BBs. Biofuels can be a silver BB if produced without requiring additional land to be converted from native habitats to agriculture. For example, biofuels can be made from waste from agriculture and forests, and from native grasses and woody biomass grown on marginal lands unsuitable for crop production.

We not only have to consider how we produce biomass, but how we convert it to energy. Producing liquid transportation fuels may not be the most efficient way to use the energy contained in biomass.

I’ve added my emphasis. Europe is trying to fix the newly-discovered ill effects of their plans to increase biofuel use by maintaining that it must not come from former rainforests, and no word on how the US will change it’s recently passed ethanol provisions in the 2007 Energy Bill. Energy policy should go back to the drawing board, to maximize research funding for waste biofuels, and seriously, no more corn ethanol subsidies, not even if you call it a tax cut! Pretty please?

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4 Responses to “Biofuels Backlash, But Wait”


  1. 1 TheDeeZone February 10, 2008 at 1:56 am

    I wrote about the same topic today.

  2. 2 virescent February 10, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Tantalizing! What was your take on it?

  3. 3 TheDeeZone February 10, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    I haven’t really decided yet. There needs to be some change. I have never thought biofuels would be the miracle solution to the problems. Biofuels have led to increased food prices. I don’t think fossil fuels are as evil as some would want us to believe. I am intrigued by the concept of using some form recyled materials or agriculutral waste to create fuel.

  4. 4 Cameron February 12, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Remember that there are whole industries based on manipulating small organisms like bacteria and yeast, so that they are more efficient at breaking down the “bio-products” that can’t traditionally be used to make bio-fuels (like corn-husks and bark). This realm of biology (called synthetic biology) is trying to find out bugs that live on thermal vents, in dark poisons caves, or in metal/salt poisoned deserts are able to metabolize the un-metabolizable and turn it into easily processable sugar. Now if you want to get straight up conspiracy theory, watch “Who killed the Electric Car”. They show an errie correlation between the fall of the EV and the rise of bio-desile talk!! Hmmmmm


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