Biofuels not so green

As reported in the International Herald Tribune, two new stuies have found that presently used biofuels are actually worse than conventional fuels in terms of greenhouse gas emissions when one takes into account the pollution released in producing those biofuels, most notably the problem of land use change:

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, the lead author of one of the studies and a researcher on the environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously, there’s been an accounting error: Land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

Plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they are burned is balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grow. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuel causes it own emissions – through refining and transport, for example.


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5 Responses to “Biofuels not so green”

  1. TheDeeZone Says:

    What do you think about using Cane sugar or agricultural waste to produce biofuels? I mentioned those in my response to this article.

  2. twistedone151 Says:

    Agricultural waste is mostly tough cellulose and lignin, and “cellulosic ethanol,” the production of ethanol from such woody matter, is still in the research and testing stages, and it isn’t clear yet if the present methods can be scaled up to the necessary industrial scale (without becoming economically unviable).

  3. twistedone151 Says:

    And cane sugar, as was noted, appears to be doing well for Brazil, but this isn’t without it’s own problems. Large amounts of cheap labor are a key part, and at least locally, burning of the cane (to fuel parts of the process) has produced problematic particulate smog. Add in the limited range of areas that cane can be grown affordably, the use of petroleum-derived fertilizers, and the crop displacement that would come from expanding cane growth for fuel (either at the expense of food crops or of uncultivated, forest land), and it’s not clear that this can be scaled to the levels needed, either.

  4. twistedone151 Says:

    See here.

  5. TheDeeZone Says:

    Interesting article.

    The first paragraph reminded me of something I have often wished for. A wind powered car. Many times driving in W. Texas, I have wished for a way to harness & use all of that wind. Like some sort of pop up sail for really windy days. Yes, I know it isn’t practical but when the wind is blowing 50+ MPH it is tempting.

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