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Recent studies point out that the cost to grow and produce biofuels is worse for the planet than gasoline

Two studies published in the journal Science shed some light into the overall cost of biofuels. Taken into account is not only the greenhouse emissions generated by burning biofuels but all of the emissions generated when producing biofuels.

According to one article the estimated impact of using corn based ethanol is double the amount of greenhouse emissions currently being produced by gasoline over a 30 year time span. An alternative method of ethanol production using switchgrass is estimated to increase emissions by a whopping 50 percent.

With governments around the world pushing to establish hard mandates on the use of biofuels and other renewable methods of energy production, we could be setting ourselves up to cause more harm than good. The U.S. Congress has set a target to raise the use of biofuels from 7.5 billion gallons to 36 billion gallons by 2022. That’s a 480 percent increase. That would push greenhouse gas production in the U.S. up by an order of magnitude.

At the same time, in order to produce these biofuels, farmland is cleared for the growth of ethanol-reliant crops. Clearing land for farming has a cost in greenhouse emissions, as does growing and harvesting these crops. Add that in to the cost of refining and burning these crops and we are generating far more emissions than simply using gasoline and oil.

Scientists in the U.S. and Europe have written letters to their respective governments warning them that biofuels in their current form will only exacerbate the production of greenhouse emissions and push the world further towards climate change.

The United Nations stated it wants to continue with the production of biofuels and reap any potential benefits. The organization admitted however that biofuels are not the silver bullet they were led to believe.

Dr. Searchinger is advocating a switch in gears for the production of biofuels. The use of organic waste in the production of biofuels would get around the problem of clearing and farming previously unused lands which cause so much of the greenhouse emissions that hold back any potential benefits of using biofuels. Using organic waste could also be well on it’s way to becoming a reality thanks to recent breakthroughs in this field.

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By Griswold on 2/8/2008 10:50:37 AM , Rating: 5
Its no secret that algae-based biofuel is more efficient than corn based fuels because it doesnt require huge farmland to produce and grows much faster and is easier (as in, you do not need combine harvesters) to harvest.

The yield per are unit is upwards 20 times higher than the next best corn. However, there are still issues, like finding the best algae strain that has not only a high growth rate but also a high lipid content and likes to grow in efficient systems like a photobioreactor

But its still biofuel. So, how about we differentiate a bit there? Furthermore, you need to be more clear that ethanol is not producing more emissions when its burned, but the increase of emission comes from the whole process of changing land into farmland, sowing, harvesting and processing. Period.

So, the problem is not the alternative fuel itself, its how and where it is produced.

Algae is obviously the way to go.

RE: Generalization
By sonoran on 2/8/2008 11:30:05 AM , Rating: 2
If you want to grow algae I suggest the desert southwest. Here in Phoenix a pool can go from clear to solid green in days in the heat of summer.

RE: Generalization
By djkrypplephite on 2/8/2008 12:59:32 PM , Rating: 1
Ahh yes, Phoenix. Funny your name is Sonoran, that's my dorm. Holla.

RE: Generalization
By Ringold on 2/8/2008 11:59:37 AM , Rating: 2
I read in the Economist last year of strains being researched that'll produce gasoline directly themselves; that sort of technology really will be impressive, once it's viable. People just need a little patience so engineers and everyone else can get the work done instead of this mad rush to inefficient technology just for the sake of immediate gratification from being active irrespective of how effective that activity is.

RE: Generalization
By KristopherKubicki on 2/8/2008 1:15:56 PM , Rating: 2
The most promising, sustainable biofuel production I've seen to date clearly is cellulosic ethanol:

RE: Generalization
By Master Kenobi on 2/8/2008 1:42:33 PM , Rating: 2
Absolutely. With no shortage of waste to be processed this could provide us with a new form of "recycling" of certain substances.

RE: Generalization
By Hoser McMoose on 2/9/2008 8:43:40 PM , Rating: 2
Ethanol as a whole isn't really all that good of a choice. It has a lower energy content and can't be easily transported via pipelines. Ethanol mostly just became popular because it's something we KNOW. We've been making ethanol for thousands of years so we've pretty well perfected the process.

Biobutanol, biogasoline and biodiesel all tend to be better solutions as actual fuel. Methods of production for all of these vary, but they certainly could include the use of some waste materials.

RE: Generalization
By Rovemelt on 2/8/2008 12:52:36 PM , Rating: 2
I agree...we just need a different way to get the biomass and algae so far looks more promising than corn. The decision to use food as the biomass wasn't well reasoned. It's no surprise to me to see research showing biofuels (the way they are currently produced from corn) being worse for CO2 emissions than just burning fossil fuels. I imagine that eventually we'll figure out how to produce biofuels economically and in a more environmentally friendly way.

RE: Generalization
By The Jedi on 2/8/2008 2:20:20 PM , Rating: 1
I thought the idea was to copy Brazil which runs all of their vehicles on corn-based ethanol.

RE: Generalization
By mdogs444 on 2/8/2008 3:05:38 PM , Rating: 2
I thought Brazil was running off a form of Sugar Cane Ethanol?

RE: Generalization
By masher2 on 2/9/2008 12:28:39 PM , Rating: 2
It's sugar-cane yes...and Brazil only supplies 1/3 of its fuel from it. The rest comes from gasoline itself.

RE: Generalization
By Discord on 2/9/2008 12:49:08 AM , Rating: 2
I'm afraid that the problem is the alternative fuel itself and not just where or how it's produced.
It cracks me up that the general consensus of many of the regular "educated" posters on DailyTech is that manmade CO2 pollution is not the cause of global warming. Yet everytime the debate of Ethanol comes up it is the sole factor in determining if it is a viable replacement for gasoline.
CO2 is absolutely harmless to human beings (unless it displaces too much Oxygen which won't happen). Why are all the endless debates centered solely on this topic?
The fact is that, accordingly to the only published study I've seen on the subject, the resulting pollution caused by burning Ethanol will be more detrimental to human health than our current solution.
That reason alone is enough for me to completely disregard it as a viable replacement to petroleum (unless gas supply/prices get so out of hand we have no recourse).
It makes no sense to replace an energy source with another more harmful one, end of story.
Instead of wasting time and money on this we should be researching solutions such as Hydrogen. Another earlier DailyTech post has shown that it is possible to produce it with a positive energy return and the only negative pollutant is CO2 (which again is harmless to humans and does not cause the ice caps to melt).

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke
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