Biofuel or bunk?

Biofuel or bunk?

Summary: Not so fast with biofuels. That's the warning from two British researchers.


Not so fast with biofuels. That's the warning from two British researchers. They say a conversion from fossil fuels to currently available biofuels will make carbon emissions go UP. If you've been watching the global warming debate, UP is the wrong direction unless you want lots of boiling lakes and melting asphalt. Of course, there are those who look forward to a little Yukon River Pinot Noir or some fresh grapefruit from Spitzbergen.

The scientists looked at all steps in the process of producing biofuels, from planting to distribution. Not only would the biofuel industry increase carbon emissions versus current fossil fuels, they conclude. It could lead to economic pressure to convert up to 40% of European farm land to producing energy instead of food. This finding questions the wisdom of current European Union policy calling for more biofuels in coming years. And it also contradicts some of the recent plans in energy bills before the American Congress.

Topic: EU

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  • Biofuels. Bunk?

    Hard to say whether they are bunk or not. There are at least as many energy/cost models of biofuel production/distribution as there are consultancies/universities with departments to study them. What is clear though is that there needs to be a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency in the US road transportation sector. Whether making biofuels is actually good for the planet (will it help stop desertification or will it speed the depletion of soils) will take some time to show.
  • You've missed the point of biofuels

    My understanding of biofuels is that as plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the products of these plants are burnt, the carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere. The only negative aspect of this cycle is the energy needed to process the plants to produce the biofuel. This would have to significantly exceed the energy needed to process fossil fuels in order to make the overall carbon dioxide balance worse than that of fossil fuels which at no stage removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
    • You've missed the point of biofuels

      Er, my point is not that they are as bad as or worse than mineral oil but that they are not completely carbon neutral. Unfortunately, there is nothing like enouhg biomass to keep the US automotive fleet mobile for more than a couple of hours each year, which is why fuel efficiency is at least as important as developing sustainable biofuels.
  • This needs a realistic debate, not emotional empathy

    The coverage centred around an article published in Science magazine based on work carried out by Leeds University and the World Land Trust. The stark suggestion of the work is that we are faced with a choice of biofuels or rainforest. It is both a simplistic and obtuse argument. In reality there is a notable body of scientific opinion to show quite the opposite. For instance the International Energy Agency has carried out research which suggests that there are substantial areas where biofuels can be grown sustainably.

    The respected Biopact organization ( took the piece to task commenting that; "The relevance of this study to the biofuels debate is marginal."

    The writing off of biofuels as something inherently bad is both perverse and intellectually sloppy. Without a doubt there is a debate to be had, but the facts need a proper airing. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization is behind the development of a strong and clear biofuels policy. In a piece in last week's Financial Times the Director General of the FAO said; "If we get it right, bioenergy provides us with a historic chance to fast-forward growth in many of the world's poorest countries, to bring about an agricultural renaissance and to supply modern energy to a third of the world's population."

    The support doesn't just come from government and industry. Greenpeace also supports the development of biofuels. In a statement about bioenergy on the organization's website it says; "Biofuels could be part of a sustainable solution to climate change, by reducing emissions from road transport, especially when combined with more energy efficient transport.

    "In particular, second generation biofuels can make a significant contribution to reducing Green House Gases from transport in a sustainable way and we encourage research and development into second generation biofuels."

    There is a raft of respected and knowledgeable organizations lining up to back the careful and controlled development of biofuels, because potentially they can make a huge difference. Of course there are arguments on the other side, and I am not for a second suggesting they are ignored. What I am suggesting, however, is that some regard is given to well thought out and developed scientific research, and not just to eye catching headlines.
  • My Slant on Bio Fuels

    I'm kind of turned off by this BioFuel for a number of reasons.

    1. It takes an estimated 7 gallons of Fossil fuel to produce 8 gallons of Biofuel. Tractors to plow and harvest, trucks to transport and so forth. And when burned in an internal combustion engine, performance goes way down. The only way to overcome this will be to build much lighter and less safe vehicles.
    2. The EPA has relaxed the many restrictions to building biofuel refineries that are crippling our domestic oil production industry. These new and less restricted facilities are producing Air pollution in parts of the US that have never before had Air Pollution.
    3. When all the corn is being turned into Bio fuels, and farmers raise more corn than other crops, the cost of all food will rise. An rise drastically within just a few growing seasons. And fuel costs will not be reduced, but will increase as well.
    4. There is enough Crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and the North of Alaska to make us oil independent for generations were we allowed to retreive it. But we have shut down offshore drilling, in Alaska, and more importantly, construction of domestic refineries. Mexico is putting more Offshore rigs in their Gulf Coast waters every day, Russia plans to begin drilling in the territory near the north pole. Both countries are building new refineries, with total disregard to pollution control. And we will pay them exorbitant prices for these products that we have readily avilable within our own borders and territory.
    5. The Far Eastern countries are in no way reducing their emmisions into the atmosphere. In fact they are increasing the emissions in the interest of growth of their economy and eventually the breakdown of our economy. This pollution is gradually and most effectively being brought across the Pacific on the Jet stream, and the Ocean currents wrapping up around the Pacific and north to south down our west coast. This pollution will in time keep us exactly where we're at, or worse, no matter what.

    I don't deny that something needs to be done, but overreaction and heavy expenditures into a vehicle that is not a solution, but will add to the problem certainly seems wrong to me.
    • There are alternatives to fossil fuels

      The only ways to produce hydrogen that are economical are solar and nuclear. The typical fossil fuel usage is something that we should just stop thinking about as it's not something that will be here for all time. We need self innovative thinkers like David Suzuki who have the ability and capability to see into the future with long term vision. Fossil fuels should never be considered for anything where thinking for the future comes in. I wish all the idiots, past and future who spared no expense to develop the nuclear bombs which are now warehoused, gathering dust and doing nothing aside from eating up the interest on dollars already spent, had of been spent on nuclear reactors to produce hydrogen. If this had of been done, we would be looking at cleaner air, extremely low oil prices as the demand would have shifted. Now, if nuclear reactors are not as far as this could go as solar, wind and any energy source could be used to produce hydrogen. It takes great men with vision, resourcefulness, focus and dedication to find the ways to use them in a way that makes it viable, polution free and economical
      but as gas prices soar with coal, natural gas and such, it really shouldn't take much longer. Hey greed is at the helm and captain of the fossil fuel ship and any port with cash will keep us looking for alternatives.
      • There are alternatives

        There are alternatives to fossil fuels. Unfortunately for alternatives like hydrogen, they may not fit the existing infrastructures that are in place for handling liquid fuels, the comparatively low tech storage systems and simple logistics. There is no need for pressurised containers, with gasoline/ethanol/diesel, and until it becomes feasible to get as much energy density in a domestic auto as there is in a gallon of gas then you're going to find it hard to sell that idea to drivers. Sure develop hydrogen fuel, but don't use your own money!
  • The only solution...

    bicycles for all, cars for none.
    What the ...!
  • This is my take on Hydrogen and it's positive

    First, I wouldn't run out, boast or brag about British innovation as aside from the Concord, Harrier helicopter and a few subs they sold to us dumber than dumb, Canadians, I'd be reluctant to run out and buy anything aside from fish and chips. Let's be frank, the Asians have proven themselves on every venture they ever undertook and lead in most industrial areas of photography, automotive, electonics, heavy equipment and too many others to mention. Aside from Tony Blair wandering around the desert with Bush looking for weapons of mass destruction, I'd be hard pressed to listen to much or anything the Brits have to say about anything. Don't believe me ? Just ask the Irish !
    Now in so far as hydrogen, they all say it costs too much to produce and it's not economical. Well, my question is how much did it cost to produce all those nuclear bombs that have now become redundant bi products of senseless politicians of yester years ? Now, Uranium is not my favourite product second only to plutonium but none the less if nuclear power plants were used to produce hydrogen, fossil fuels would become about as valuable as a 10 megabyte hard drive. We would not need oil except to fry your potato chips. Are you listening Mr Bush because the idiot we have for a prime minister has been out to lunch ever since he arrived. Leave it to the Japanese as it will take somebody with their way of thinking to realize it's more than viable, it's a great solution. The only thing to promote this is oil, the higher the price, the more viable hydrogen becomes.
  • Most people are missing the point.

    The problem is not what kind of carbon we put into internal combustion engines, but why?

    The solution is obviously to build electric cars. They were on the road before ICEs in the late 1800s. They seemed to run okay then, why not now over 100 years later? If you use a car to commute to work you shouldn't need to go farther than one charge AND it's so much cheaper to recharge the batteries than to go to the gas station. I looked up a Gov. of Canada site and their estimation is about a $2.60 to recharge a hybrid Prius. How much did it cost you to fill the tank?

    This solution will need the will of the world to implement, though. The economic repercussions could be humongous if these changes have to be rammed down CEO's throats. No corporation who answers to the bottom line is going to want this change because the status quo means continuing profits. No innovation is good innovation. So it's up to us, the voters (AKA the government/consumers), to make it happen.

    Interested Amateur
    Interested Amateur
    • Most people are missing the point.

      The fundamental problem with your argument as I see it is that unless you use nuclear, wind or tidal power, then pretty well everything that is used to generate electricity converts carbon into carbon dioxide. Then allow for charging/discharging losses and the energy it takes to make batteries and its going to be difficult to make electrically powered vehicles as efficient as using the fuel directly to power the vehicle any time soon...
  • propaganda

    This research may only be a propaganda against the production of biofuels to support the market of gasoline and diesel. There may still be a carbon emission with biofuels but i believe it is far more less than what is emitted by fossil fuels. Although emissions can be lessened by the installation of <a href=>Ventshade Performance Parts</a> but still it is more advantageous to use biofuels than fossil fuels in terms of emission.