Green Blues: Biofuels add to Global Warming

Van Mensvoort
February 11th 2008

Bio Fuel

It is official: the Green Blues has begun. Almost all bio-fuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two new studies published in the top-tier journal Science have concluded.

The studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development. The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

This is horrible news news for biofuel proponents. In the energy bill just passed, the U.S. is betting heavily on ethanol, mandating a sixfold increase in the use of biofuels by 2022. Current ethanol demands are already pushing up grain and meat prices and contributing to inflation. The tradeoff was that we were saving the world. Now that bargain looks pretty shaky.

But not all is lost on the biofuel front. Some companies are working on ways to make fuel from algae or ”waste” plants like sawgrass that wouldn’t prompt farmers to clear-cut the precious rainforests and grasslands.

Via: New York Times, Washington Post. See also: Real Nature is not Green.

Share your thoughts and join the technology debate!public: 1


Innovative Entrepreneur
Posted 08/04/2010 – 12:49

Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious to me but somehow wasn't.
I suppose now the justification for biofuels is that they are "renewable" rather than clean. On the other hand perhaps technology will yield clean biofuels sort of like catalytic converters did for some of the car emissions.

Natural Causes Of Global Warmi
Posted 21/01/2010 – 12:30

Wind Turbine technology...perfect for countries visited by typhoons 26 times a year on average!

Sean Denniston
Posted 28/02/2008 – 07:34

I don't think the study (at least as presented by the article) is really comparing apples to apples. It is rolling the effect of clearing rain forrest and scrubland into bio-fuel as if all bio-fuels suffer this problem. Corn-based ethanol is a net loser, this is true. But bio-diesel can be made from waste vegetable oil rather than virgin oil. It can turn something from the waste stream into its raw material rather than farmland. Ethanol technology is, too, advancing so that now there are processes coming in that use waste or the produce of less-aerable land as the base for fuel production.
Also the study simultaneously doesn't seem to be including the same kind of effects in "conventional fuels." What of the CO2 effect of war and lesser conflict? Shouldn't these be rolled in to the CO2 cost of conventional fuels?
It is unfortunate, it seems that US policy is favoring the worst kinds of bio-fuels, almost as if the government is trying to undermine the hope of bio-fuels.

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