Here is the first of my notes on Biofuels – I look forward to inputs and comments!
I am sure I can not answer that question – I think its a bit like the “will Biotechnology really save the poor of the world?” question which has two “sides”, a public who can’t decide and not enough knowledge to settle it. So the sides don’t agree and continue contradicting each other. Its not like the the flat earth discussion, where their are only a handful on the “flat earth side” and enough information for the vast majority public and academic to agree.
So just recently two papers in Science added to the warnings that food crop based biofuels are not a good solution to global warming.
They look at the global warming effect of the process of converting unused land into agricultural land growing oil seeds or starch rich crops. They claim that this has not been included in previous calculation, a fact which doesn’t seem to be contested by others. One scary quotation from the New York Times article:
The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”
Then just to prove my point about never understanding the real position Biofuels Digest reports on another study! This one amongst others concludes that converting land under soya to maize for ethanol is positive, as it would increase the value of the land reducing the possibility of housing development that would be more harmful!
It seems to me that there has been a big oversight in all the evaluations on which decisions were made to use millions of tons of food are to produce millions of tons a year of biodiesel and bioethenol. Note that there is still no agreement on whether the global warming effects of the crude oil used to produce farm implements should not be added to the current calculations.
Are there others unforeseen issues laying in wait and are we being sunk by our rush to eplace fossil fuel with anything that we can call green?
What is surely clear though is that there should be a focus on producing biofuels from the other options which are still way too expensive and require technology development eg cellulosic ethanol, algal biodiesel, biogas. These offer energy and greenhouse gas advantages over the simpler food based biofuels. Maybe further expansion of bioethanol and biodiesel capacity should not receive the subsidies which have allowed this situation to develop.