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.

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  • Koert, 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.

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

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  • 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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  • Sometimes I wonder when we get over the taboo on nuclear energy. Apart from some terrible experiences in the past, it still is the most "clean" form of energy. If we count in all the *possible* problems and juxtapose them to the *real* problems traditional as well as alternative sources seem to bring with them, I'm almost sure te public opinion will shift towards this dubious way of creating energy...

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  • everyone seems to agree that only used kitchen grease and algae are the only "sustainable" transportation fuels. How about a bicycle taxi feature? Rubber tires from rubber trees or PET bottles; frames from old car frames--nearly unlimited resources, here. How many bikes can you make out of a car?

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  • well of course it's all hype. this whole thing is just a gimmick automakers and energy companies can put in their commercials to make them look better to the public eye. did you actually think they were putting all that money forward for the environment? pshaw.

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  • =A=

    I read the end of your article Koert, but can it be as simple as that? Algae, like corn and oil, exist only because there is a sun that makes things grow and turn matter into carbon compounds. Why do corporations, politicians and scientists nowadays even start up projects that don't harvest the power from its most direct and 'clean' source? ... I agree; solar, wind and water power sound even less sexy, yet those seem to be the most honest and direct elements to work with. In my opinion the answer to gain clean energy lies in those resources. The search for new 'indirect' fuels seems to lead to dead ends, waste of space or dead Amazon forests and molten poles in the least.

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  • Luckily not all is lost on the biofuel front, if you read to the end of the article: using algae or 'waste' plants might still work! - Pity that fueling your car with 'algae' somehow isn't as cool as using 'corn'. Putting algae in your tank somehow sounds dirty, but then again it still is a lot better than oil.

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  • Well, "bringing all the land winning and bureaucratic machines to a halt" might be a bit too abrupt Arnoud. There are only two scientific papers now, which is really nothing. It only shows that the simple idea of putting corn in your car will create a sustainable future, might just be a bit too simple. As it seems now, it is no more than a lovely and tempting biomimicmarketing.

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  • =A=

    This is heavy and disturbing news. I hope both the land winning and bureaucratic machines can be brought to a halt. The energy bill involves great deals of money which causes policy makers and companies to try and protect their course.

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