Saturday, January 05, 2008

Experts: Burning Biofuels May Be Worse Than Coal and Oil


Palm oil plantation - Malaysia


Some more scientists weigh in. I just hope it isn't too late.
Using biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and soy could have a greater environmental impact than burning fossil fuels, according to experts. Although the fuels themselves emit fewer greenhouse gases, they all have higher costs in terms of biodiversity loss and destruction of farmland.

The problems of climate change and the rising cost of oil have led to a race to develop environmentally-friendly biofuels, such as palm oil or ethanol derived from corn and sugar cane. The EU has proposed that 10% of all fuel used in transport should come from biofuels by 2020 and the emerging global market is expected to be worth billions of dollars a year.

But the new fuels have attracted controversy. “Regardless of how effective sugar cane is for producing ethanol, its benefits quickly diminish if carbon-rich tropical forests are being razed to make the sugar cane fields, thereby causing vast greenhouse-gas emission increases,” Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, write in Science today.

“Such comparisons become even more lopsided if the full environmental benefits of tropical forests - for example, for biodiversity conservation, hydrological functioning, and soil protection - are included.”

Efforts to work out which crops are most environmentally friendly have, until now, focused only on the amount of greenhouse gases a fuel emits when it is burned. Scharlemann and Laurance highlighted a more comprehensive method, developed by Rainer Zah of the Empa Research Institute in Switzerland, that can take total environmental impacts - such as loss of forests and farmland and effects on biodiversity - into account.

In a study of 26 biofuels the Swiss method showed that 21 fuels reduced greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 30% compared with gasoline when burned. But almost half of the biofuels, a total of 12, had greater total environmental impacts than fossil fuels. These included economically-significant fuels such as US corn ethanol, Brazilian sugar cane ethanol and soy diesel, and Malaysian palm-oil diesel. Biofuels that fared best were those produced from waste products such as recycled cooking oil, as well as ethanol from grass or wood.

I'm afraid I've been visiting this subject often, but its something that can be stopped if people learn about the topic.

If more money can be made selling palm oil for biofuels, forests get cut down for larger and larger plantations. Meanwhile, there's a shortage of palm oil for cooking.

You can search for "biofuel" or "bio-fuel" on the right sidebar. I apologize beforehand, some of the results don't go to specific posts, but to pages containing a biofuel post. Those links are a fucking PITA (pain in the ass) because there are so many posts per page.

Via Mathaba.

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