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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 jbartabas on 2/8/2008 1:05:36 PM , Rating: 2
The DT article says:
quote:
Taken into account is not only the greenhouse emissions generated by burning biofuels but all of the emissions generated when producing biofuels.


To me it seems that Christopher assumes that previous studies only accounted for the emissions generated by burning the biofuels. This is wrong, and clearly stated in the introduction of the Science paper he cited:
quote:
Most life-cycle studies have found that replacing gasoline with ethanol modestly reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) if made from corn and substantially if made from cellulose or sugarcane.


Previous studies that found beneficial effect of biofuel accounted for the life-cycle (and this is why corn induce only modest benefit, because you spend almost as much energy to grow and distribute it as you can recover from it).

What is new with the cited article is to investigate what happens when you convert area (change in land use) that were already significantly sequestrating carbon into biofuel oriented agricultural areas.

If you use only existing corn sites, you have a small or substantial in your carbon budget. But in the real world where the energy demand is larger than available production, the trend is to increase this type of production.

Note also that the US corn issue is the focus of the study, and that the problem may be significantly different with sugarcane which is much more beneficial to start with.

quote:
Ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane, based on estimated GHG reductions of 86% excluding land use changes, (7) could pay back the upfront carbon emissions in 4 years if sugarcane only converts tropical grazing land. However, if displaced ranchers convert rainforest to grazing land, the payback period could rise to 45 years. (1) The extraordinary productivity of Brazilian sugarcane merits special future analysis.


So biofuels are not bad by themselves, but as stated in the article they are certainly not (yet) the silver bullet.




By Master Kenobi (blog) on 2/8/2008 1:40:51 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
To me it seems that Christopher assumes that previous studies only accounted for the emissions generated by burning the biofuels. This is wrong, and clearly stated in the introduction of the Science paper he cited:

Many studies did only account for that, these are the studies typically thrown around in front of Congress or the United Nations. In this particular case though the article talks about "life-cycle" studies which are a different matter entirely. In a lifecycle comparison between oil and ethanol your right.

quote:
Note also that the US corn issue is the focus of the study, and that the problem may be significantly different with sugarcane which is much more beneficial to start with.

Sugarcane only works down near Venezuela where it grows quite easily. Up in the U.S. Sugarcane just isn't practical on a large scale like it is down there. Corn isn't a good alternative. Perhaps a geneticly modified strain of sugarcane that grows much easier in the U.S. Climate zones.

quote:
So biofuels are not bad by themselves, but as stated in the article they are certainly not (yet) the silver bullet.

Biofuels can be bad if approached in the wrong way. Mass farming of corn or similiar would end up causing more problems than simply expanding oil production.


By jbartabas on 2/8/2008 2:21:44 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Sugarcane only works down near Venezuela where it grows quite easily. Up in the U.S. Sugarcane just isn't practical on a large scale like it is down there. Corn isn't a good alternative. Perhaps a geneticly modified strain of sugarcane that grows much easier in the U.S. Climate zones.


One promising way for high latitudes regions could be ligno-cellulosic biomass, found in industrial and agricultural waste products.

The problem with this 'silver bullet' is that it's difficult to extract sugar from it, and efficient ways have been researched for a while ... it is not sure if it will become a credible alternative in the near future :-(


By Master Kenobi (blog) on 2/8/2008 2:39:01 PM , Rating: 2
Yea, it does look like the best method we have yet seen. http://www.dailytech.com/Cellulosic+Ethanol+Promis...


By Ringold on 2/8/2008 7:32:02 PM , Rating: 2
Sugarcane is grown in large amounts in South Florida; I think most Floridians are aware of the big influence they've had in state politics. Unfortunately, they've also ravaged the Everglades and if they had their way would probably eliminate them entirely. Now we pay billions for private groups and the Army corps of engineers to clean up after them.


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