Monday, February 18, 2008

The Myth of Biofuels.

"We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of converting land for biofuels. Doing so means we might unintentionally promote fuel alternatives that are worse than fossil fuels they are designed to replace." - Joe Fargione, The Nature Conservancy

Are biofuels all that they are made out to be - a silver bullet, a panacea for reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change?

Biofuels - made from the processing of food crops like corn, soybeans and palm oil - have been embraced widely as an essential solution to global warming and are viewed favorably as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they are burned are balance by a comparable amount of carbon that the plants absorbed when they grew.
Oilseed plantation
But this basis for adopting biofuels, as an alternative to fossil fuels, to reduce carbon emissions is fundamentally flawed as it does not takes into account the carbon emitted by the process of turning plants into fuels, especially from the conversion of land for growing biofuel crops.

Two recent studies published in the journal Science have, in fact, indicated that the rush to grow crops for biofuels have actually increased greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing it. "Any biofuel that uses productive land is going to create more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves," said Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University, a lead author of one of the studies.

Called by some environmentalists as the "deforestation fuel", huge amount of natural land are currently being converted to meet the global demand for biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, and the clearance of forests and grasslands releases vast amounts of carbon - far more than the carbon spared by burning biofuels instead of petrol.

Research by the Nature Conservancy estimated that the clearing of grasslands and forests for biofuel plantations releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gases that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land. "So, for the next 93 years, you are making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions," said Joseph Fargione, of the Nature Conservancy.
Biofuel harvesting
Even using existing farmland to grow biofuel crops instead of food crops, increases greenhouse gas emissions because food production would simply be shifted to other parts of the world, resulting in the destruction of more forests and grasslands to make way for agriculture. And as all biofuel agriculture causes habitats destruction, it further exacerbates the massive loss of natural ecosystems and biodiversity in recent years.

With global production of ethanol almost doubling between 2000 and 2005 and biodiesel output quadrupling to meet the rising demand for biofuels, especially in Europe, much of the biofuels come from Brazil where pristine forests in the Amazon are being burned to plant more sugar and soybeans, and also from South East Asia, especially Indonesia, where rainforests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, destroying the habitats of many species like the orangutans. Species are actually dying for our driving.

The rush to embrace biofuels has also contributed to the recent worldwide increases in food prices especially grains, sugar and vegetable oil, and prices are expected to rise even further as farmers shift their emphasis from food crops to biofuel crops to cash in on the demand.

While biofuels does have a part to play in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it can only be as part of an overall strategy that must include reducing energy usage, improving fuel efficiency in production and transport, and a diversity of sustainable energy resources.

It is frightening that something so well-intentioned can turn out to be damaging to our environment instead and there is now an urgent need to turn attention towards producing biofuels that do not require cropping such as waste from agriculture and forest lands, and woody biomass grown on marginal lands unsuitable for crop production, as they do not require the conversion of land.

*Sources
- Science journal
- IPPC, United Nations
- The Nature Conservancy
- World Conservation Union
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

*Related posts :
- Man & The Loss Of Biodiversity
- Deforestation - How The World Is Losing Its Cool
- Burps, Flatulence & A Killer Warming Gas


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5 comments:

Carolyn B. said...

I hadn't heard any of this -- how disappointing!

My Den said...

Hi Carolyn,
Similiar to the extensive attention given to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and overlooking other greenhouse gases emissions like methane, the rush to embraced biofuels to mitigate the effects of climate change was at the expense of other mitigation strategies like improving fuel efficiency and reduction in energy consumption. And it is both disappointing and worrying.
Thanks for dropping by. Regards.
Dan

Sunny said...

I have wondered what will happen when the question is do we feed the poor or feed our cars. What happens when biofuels raise the price of food until we can't afford to eat. Once corn goes up, pretty much everything goes up because most of the animals for meat are fed corn and everything has high-fructose corn syrup in it.

My Den said...

Hi Sunny,
Escalating food prices, especially of grains like corn and maize, is a direct result of the rush to embrace biofuels where farmers shift their emphasis to cash in on biofuel crops.

It has already exacerbate the situation for the poor in many third world nations. And the funny thing is that food agriculture has actually increased 4 fold for the period 2000 to 2005, just that most of the increases came from the production of biofuel crops.

Thanks for dropping by. Regards.
Dan

Quality Tale said...

Yes, the time come ... and told us either save me or you ... it is due to our mistake that we could not care the drop of water and fuel ... everything we able to save, at least for the sake of our country and the house of the poor once...

It is in our hand to think twice and thrice on this issue ....

Regards,

Aniruddha