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  • Biofuels Not So Enviro-Friendly

    Switching from fossil fuels to allegedly cleaner fuels may not be as good for the environment as advertised says the United Kingdom’s Times. Similar to the renewable fuels mandate in the United States, the UK has a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation that requires 3.25% of fuel sold to come from crops – increasing to 13 percent by 2020. A new government study suggests that biofuels may actually be worse for the environment:

    The findings show that the Department for Transport’s target for raising the level of biofuel in all fuel sold in Britain will result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations. The study, likely to force a review of the target, concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.

    Under the standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of fossil fuel. Yet the study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.”

    Similar concerns have been raised in the United States, particularly with ethanol. The 2005 energy bill contained the first-ever requirement that renewable fuels be mixed into the gasoline supply. The 2007 energy bill increased the mandate substantially to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

    Many environmental organizations have raised concerns about the increased inputs of energy, pesticides, and fertilizer needed to grow more corn.The same is true for the stress on water supplies, especially now that corn production is being expanded in locales where rainfall is insufficient and irrigation is needed. Even land that is now protected under federal conservation programs may soon be cleared for corn.

    In addition, the facilities that turn corn into ethanol create emissions issues of their own. The goal of the ethanol mandate was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but after taking into account the carbon dioxide emitted from ethanol production, the reduction in emissions is modest.

    It would be wise for the UK to reconsider it’s renewable fuel obligation and it would be wise for the United States to do the same.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    16 Responses to Biofuels Not So Enviro-Friendly

    1. Eddie MacIsaaac, Uni says:

      What is a "Rape Seed"? Is that a truncation of a grape seed?

    2. John B. San Diego says:

      Nick, all I can say is insufficient research and development is leading us to further unsustainable policies and processes with regard to renewable energy.

      An investment in what we know works and then turn to reinvesting royalty and lease fees towards that R&D will benefit job creation, the revenue increases for local, state, and federal coffers; plus escape this willy-nilly, hysterical rush to some how save our planet at all costs.

      The result of a protracted move based on sound scientific research, in moving toward renewable non-conventional energy sources without ignoring unintended consequences and undo suffering of our population could save our economy and our environment.

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    4. Sam, WI says:

      National Geographic had a very interesting article regarding biofuels in their October 2007 issue. If you haven't read, I encourage doing so.

    5. robert howe says:

      I am not sure what the big problem is with ethanol as we have a big glut of corn now and these new corn htcrids are much more drought tolerant and therefore take less water. Also the new hybrids produce greater yields on the same amount of land.

    6. Don Harper, Lubbock, says:

      This is part of a response by “Happy Chappy”. I thought it to be a good idea.

      “It should be clear to all that the government is incapable of inventing or selecting

      an alternative energy or supporting those who would invent it. A classic example of this is our current ethanol from corn program. The evidence shows that it takes 30% more energy, from fossil fuels, to create ethanol than the energy we get out of it. This has been known for years and every year the government increases the subsidy to the ethanol industry while the states continue to increase the demand by mandating ethanol in gasoline. Will this wasteful farce of an “alternative” ever go away? The simple answer is “no!”, not as long as the government continues

      to subsidize it. Worse, the fact that the program exists prevents a viable alternative from being discovered. In fact, if today some genius discovered a cheap and effective additive to gasoline that would reduce pollution and decrease the need for oil, the ethanol industry and congress would fight it and probably legislate it out of existence. The problem IS the government! The problem IS the subsidy. By definition, a viable alternative energy source would not require a subsidy. None of our current crop of alternatives are viable. Wind power is the most promising and it costs 4-10 times what a fossil fuel generation plant would cost. Photo voltaic is the most well known alternative and it costs more to purchase the system than it will ever return in the form of generated electricity. In fact it requires more energy to build and install all the components of a PV system than it will ever produce. In other words it isn’t viable. However it is subsidized, it is anointed by government and special interests. If we want viable alternatives, we must establish a system that allows new alternatives to

      compete and be judged by neutral experts and scientists, not politicians or lobbyists. Set up a standard with goals and requirements that must be met. Provide a cash prize for the winner as an incentive but no subsidy. Let the industry and individuals choose from those alternatives that can pass the test. Do not allow the federal or state government to “subsidize” or otherwise

      choose the winners. “

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    8. Tom/Georgia says:

      Worst thought of the day:

      What if the natural processes that would be needed for the technology that would produce a viable primary energy source as an alternative to fossil fuels were never created when the Universe was created? If the natural processes were never created, they will never be discovered. If non-existent natural processes are needed for the technological solutions that we need–and seem to expect that we will have–then we will not have the technological solutions that we need.

      Uranium, though not produced by a biological process, is a fossil fuel that was created when a massive star went super-nova. The nearest places that additional uranium has been produced in the past century or two? was in galaxies other then the Milky Way Galaxy. The uranium that we already have is the uranium that we will have.

      Now, don't get squeamish, but hydroelectric is the only proven primary energy source that is able to be a viable alternative to the various fossil fuels.

      There is a theoretical chance that fast neutron reactors to replace the current slow neutron reactors could extend the useful life of uranium supplies for several thousand years.

      Maybe we need to back up, take another look at the big picture and reassess. Unsupported–and currently unsupportable–assumptions are currently being used to support virtually endless acts of stupidity.

      Real change will come but real change will never and has never come from Congresses or Presidents. Real change is wrought by changing systemic situations and then by people, one by one, at the grass roots adjusting and adapting to the changing systemic situations.

    9. Damon S. McClure, Le says:

      Cow FARTS are killing us! I don't think so Willis.

    10. Nadia, Boston says:

      I'm a little puzzled by the statement that "a viable alternative energy source would not require a subsidy". Our current viable energy sources were all massively subsidized during their development, and continue to be subsidized today:

      http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/subsidy2/p

    11. Don Harper, Lubbock, says:

      A viable alternative energy source would be one that supplied a useful amount of energy at a cost that would allow the supplier to make a profit without a handout from the government. The fact that we still subsidize oil or nuclear power is the result of the unholy alliance between Congress and industry. Corporate welfare at the expense of taxpayers.

    12. Spiritof76, NH says:

      The single biggest obstacle to energy production is the government.

      Get rid of ALL the subsidies. Get rid of the stupid notion that CO2 is a pollutant. In that case, life on earth must be reduced to the level of some bacterium.

    13. Billie says:

      How hypocritical this government use food for fuel and then draw a hunger crisis.

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    16. Steve V says:

      Ethanol creates American Jobs.

      Ethanol can displace oil, one Btu of ethanol to two Btu’s of petroleum.

      Ethanol offers a reduction in emission and green house gases.

      Ethanol in higher blends (E15) in non flex vehicles will not hurt the vehicle and on average will not reduce mileage.

      Ethanol does not displace the amount of corn as reported; the amount of protein that remains from the ethanol process is being feed to cattle, dairy and poultry. This amount is displacing over half the market value of corn heading to the ethanol plant verses the original feeding value.

      Ethanol does not raise food prices like reported on the news. Less than 17% of corn goes directly to the food industry while speculators in Chicago drove up the commodities just like they did with oil and precious metals.

      Ethanol can feed people; new plant designs can separate the protein from the starch prior to the fermentation and allow production of food grade protein. We always hear about diet issues here and abroad, we are a starch rich protein deficient world.

      Ethanol does not use vast amounts of water unless you want to figure in the rain, most ethanol plants are zero water discharge with only the cooling towers giving off water vapor for cooling. Look at the water use for refining gasoline. More water is used to water golf courses in Palm Beach and Broward counties then the entire ethanol industry, 3 gallons of water to one gallon ethanol.

      Ethanol (corn based) is not responsible for rain forest destruction. There was a 4% reduction in acres of corn planted last year with another reduction forecasted this year. Reports are that vast amounts of rain forest are being harvested for the hard wood while agriculture and cattle production only followed due to open land. This was Brazil’s form of welfare.

      Ethanol can displace most if not all the oil we import from the Middle East. With the combination of corn based, cellulose & wood ethanol production. When we trade with ourselves we have both the product and the money. We need a fair and balanced approach.

      Ethanol value can be raised to and above the value of gasoline if the future of ethanol gained its needed review. We can use ethanol more efficiently then current uses today but not when people hear and believe the false claims.

      Ethanol can help other third world countries. America dumps our cheap commodities on the world market making it difficult for farmers in S America, Eastern Europe or Africa to be productive or make a living.

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