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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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RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By masher2 on 2/8/2008 10:55:57 AM , Rating: 5
> "the money i then spend on my fuel needs will then mostly be going back to our local farmers. "

Who then turn around and give it back to the Sheiks in Saudi Arabia, when they buy their petroleum-based fertilizers and diesel fuel for their tractors and harvesters, as well as the energy required to run the plants which convert the corn into ethanol.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By Spuke on 2/8/2008 1:30:17 PM , Rating: 2
Who then turn around and give it back to the Sheiks in Saudi Arabia, when they buy their petroleum-based fertilizers and diesel fuel for their tractors and harvesters, as well as the energy required to run the plants which convert the corn into ethanol.
You guys can rate him down all you want but last time I checked farm equipment still runs on diesel or gasoline. This is a true statement, like it or not.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By Ringold on 2/8/2008 1:40:32 PM , Rating: 2
I think some would counter that those, too, could run on biofuel. The fertilizers though was a solid point.

I'd of taken the free trade line of attack instead, but that would get me rated down too, probably even faster, so I'll leave the whiff of trade protectionism alone.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By jbartabas on 2/8/2008 2:49:29 PM , Rating: 2
I think some would counter that those, too, could run on biofuel. The fertilizers though was a solid point.

If you would produce significantly more biofuel-based energy than you'd need to invest for your production, not only you *could* run your machines on it but you'd probably would. I am not sure the benefit is large enough though with US corn.

As for the impact of the use of fertilizer on the net carbon budget, it is my understanding that it is usually included in the benefits studies.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By borowki on 2/11/2008 8:25:46 PM , Rating: 2
Of course not. Why would you use a fuel that's less efficient when you could sell that at a price artificially inflated by government mandates and subsidies?

By wackie999 on 2/13/2008 12:57:49 PM , Rating: 2

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By dever on 2/8/2008 3:40:23 PM , Rating: 2
Once again, government interferes with the market causing more harm than good. The pattern is obvious. When you concentrate power to make decisions to a handful of people subject to the influences of interest groups, the outcome will be worse than the clear voice of each individual being allowed to vote with their wallet.

This time, as often happens, the ones who are hurt the worst are the average to low income households. How? Higher fuel costs make all consumables increase in price because of delivery costs. Not only that, but with ethonal, we are taking your taxes to directly increase your price of grain through higher demand. This not only affects cereals and breads, but milk and meat by bidding up the price of feed.

Because food and fuel make up a larger percentage of the income of poorer people, they are the hardest hit by ethonal subsidies. On top of that, many of them contribute to the tax load that is causing this increase to begin with.

Ethonal is nothing but the worst form of corporate welfare, benefiting a few wealthy at the cost of many, many average individuals. (Lobbyists invoke the image of some farmer that looks like your great-grandpa to justify stealing your taxes. It's typical dirty marketing using the image of a child or elderly person to invoke sympathy.)

Scientific American had an article stating these same issues with ethonal a couple of years ago... and subsidies have only continued to increase.

By Ringold on 2/8/2008 7:14:41 PM , Rating: 2
You're exactly right. Agflation has been particularly devastating in low-income countries; it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that people are starving in less developed parts of the world because of our global warming vanity.

Speaking of global warming, that's a big reason why the whole issue is so dangerous. Environmentalists may believe they have noble goals but the 95% of the rest of the world is out to make a buck. When they fearmonger and put an idea out there, they can inadvertently create a special-interest monstrosity. These farmers have latched on to both the global warming and energy security crowds; most the population of some farm-belt towns, down to the school bus drivers, have put life savings in to community ethanol plants. I heard on the news a few minutes ago the ethanol lobbyists are already furious and fighting back over this report. Environmentalists, primarily, created a monster and now it's up to those who were rational all along to take on the near-impossible task of slaying the beast.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By kattanna on 2/8/2008 2:33:00 PM , Rating: 1
but a farmer already does that with any crop hes gonna farm. farming a crop instead that goes to a biofuel will then at least divert part of my fuel money through the farmer instead of directly to someone offshore. Economies are about the flow of money, and if i can keep my money flowing through our own for another turn or 2, then that sounds good to me. Who knows, while im sure it is completely wishfull thinking, if they could make enough money farming for biofuels, maybe they wouldnt need so much of my tax dollars as subsidies.

corn as a biofuel i dont see being around too much longer. There are simply too many issues with it, and many other choices, regardless of what the corn lobby will tell you, LOL.

and once they finish the cycle of using renewables in all stages of the process, then gone will be the need for foreign energy sources.

Im not a oil hater, i only would like to see us work more towards energy independence, as i would like to see for any country.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By dever on 2/8/2008 3:46:24 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with energy independence is not need for renewable energy sources. We have plenty of access to domestic petroleum if we were allowed to use it.

Of course, maybe this is a good strategy. Keep our domestic supplies untapped until we completely bleed off the mideast supply. The problem is, this may take a hundred years.

By kattanna on 2/8/2008 4:36:42 PM , Rating: 2
oh, dont get me wrong, im all for drilling for more oil, using our coal, and building more nuclear plants. In fact i wish we would build a whole lot more nuclear plants.

I'm also for more wind, solar, and other sources of power. In fact I'm all for anything that gives us the power we really need.

By borowki on 2/11/2008 8:46:28 PM , Rating: 2
The energy-independence crowd is just wonky in the head. As though America could safely ignore the Middle East in the age of nuclear weapons. Like it or not, our military will be involved in different parts of the world, as it has in the last century, with or without economic dependency. Aircraft carriers--that's our best tool of energy security, not corn.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By masher2 on 2/8/2008 4:05:03 PM , Rating: 5
> "but a farmer already does that with any crop hes gonna farm"

Right, but we *need* to grow food. We don't need to produce ethanol fuel. And when we use so much oil to grow corn, you may think buying ethanol rather than gas is a stick in the eye to the oil barons, but it really just hurts us, not them.

The key here is efficiency. Ethanol is a highly inefficient means of turning oil, labor, and a large amount of other resources into fuel. That inefficiency costs us money and ultimately, reduces the resources we could use to truly solve problems. It might be worth it anyway if it was buying us some energy independence...but it's not. Far better to use those billions of dollars of ethanol subsidies in researching a true solution to the problem.

A free market always finds the most efficient means of production. Government mandates interfere with that, and ultimately hurts us all.

RE: The thing i like most about biofuels
By kattanna on 2/8/2008 5:09:57 PM , Rating: 2
true, but you have to remember that when we started to harvest that "waste" product in our search for kerosene, it was HIGHLY inefficient then too. over the many decades since, the process has been highly refined.

Just imagine if we had kept refining ethanol production from way back then how much more efficient we would be at it today?

By masher2 on 2/8/2008 8:15:48 PM , Rating: 2
The difference is that the products developed from petroleum refining weren't widely produced and sold *until* they were cheaper and more efficient than the alternatives.

Our production of ethanol will continue to improve as well. However, it'd do so faster and with less wasted resources if the government would stop subsidizing it. Instead of wasting time with corn, we'd be devoting all our efforts to R&D on more efficient means of production.

By Hoser McMoose on 2/9/2008 8:25:25 PM , Rating: 3
We've been making ethanol for nearly 10,000 years! How much more time do we need?

The Economist actually had a good comment about it, that we use ethanol not because it was a good solution, but just because it's something we KNOW. Simple fact is that making ethanol to power a vehicle really isn't all that different from making ethanol to drink.

By borowki on 2/11/2008 8:22:04 PM , Rating: 2
And where do you think the money that goes to Middle East countries end up? In a black hole?

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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