The Electric Commentary

Friday, March 28, 2008

Biofuels Kill

The Biofuel scam is disastrous in every way. Biofuels are expensive, bad for the environment, and the resulting increase in food prices leads to starvation in poorer nations. Here's Michael Grunwald in Time Magazine:

The environmental cost of this cropland creep is now becoming apparent. One groundbreaking new study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline. Sugarcane ethanol is much cleaner, and biofuels created from waste products that don't gobble up land have real potential, but even cellulosic ethanol increases overall emissions when its plant source is grown on good cropland. "People don't want to believe renewable fuels could be bad," says the lead author, Tim Searchinger, a Princeton scholar and former Environmental Defense attorney. "But when you realize we're tearing down rain forests that store loads of carbon to grow crops that store much less carbon, it becomes obvious."

Moving along a bit...

There was just one flaw in the calculation: the studies all credited fuel crops for sequestering carbon, but no one checked whether the crops would ultimately replace vegetation and soils that sucked up even more carbon. It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots. The deforestation of Indonesia has shown that's not the case. It turns out that the carbon lost when wilderness is razed overwhelms the gains from cleaner-burning fuels. A study by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman concluded that it will take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to "pay back" the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat lands to grow palm oil; clearing grasslands to grow corn for ethanol has a payback period of 93 years. The result is that biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests. Searchinger's study concluded that overall, corn ethanol has a payback period of about 167 years because of the deforestation it triggers.

Not every kernel of corn diverted to fuel will be replaced. Diversions raise food prices, so the poor will eat less. That's the reason a U.N. food expert recently called agrofuels a "crime against humanity." Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that biofuels pit the 800 million people with cars against the 800 million people with hunger problems. Four years ago, two University of Minnesota researchers predicted the ranks of the hungry would drop to 625 million by 2025; last year, after adjusting for the inflationary effects of biofuels, they increased their prediction to 1.2 billion.

Make no mistake about it. There is literally no upside to biofuel. If you support biofuel, you support environmental degredation and starvation.


  • what about cellulosic ethanol created from waste products? Instead of a compost pile in your backyard for your food scraps you have a digester in your garage that turns them into fuel.

    Of course agrofuels were never a good replacement for petrol. Our best bet is electric vehicles powered by nuclear or renewable energy.

    By Blogger mattress, at 11:25 AM  

  • I have been thinking this for a while now; however, I just saw a biofuel that may well be an exception. Some group has gotten algae to grow in hanging things in greenhouses in the desert. Apparently they can make fuel from this.',;

    The problem seems to be that people are jumping the gun on biofuels - for political reasons.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 11:04 PM  

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