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.
quote: Taken into account is not only the greenhouse emissions generated by burning biofuels but all of the emissions generated when producing biofuels.
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.
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.
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:
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.
quote: So biofuels are not bad by themselves, but as stated in the article they are certainly not (yet) the silver bullet.
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.