Saturday, October 06, 2007

Biofuels May Be Fueling Global Warming

The main knock against using food like corn for fuel is that because of the high price of gasoline which it can replace as ethanol it drives up the price of food which makes the problems of world hunger even more acute than they already are. Until now at least, those in favor of biofuels could at least argue that by replacing gasoline with ethanol from crops like corn, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. But even that argument is now in jeopardy as a result of paper by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen and colleagues who found that the nitrogen fertilizer used to grow crops such as corn results in greater amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide being produced by microbes than was previously thought. In fact, so much nitrous oxide results that it is calculated that by using corn for fuel the contribution to global warming can be as high as 1.5 times as burning fossil fuels. According to an article on SciDev.Net sugar is the only biofuel crop that is exempt from this problem because it requires less fertilizer. However, growing sugar in places like Brazil results in deforestation which also increases global warming.

Considering the effect on food prices alone, the rush to turn corn into ethanol hasn’t made much sense. If the results of this new study are confirmed this transformation from food to fuel will make even less sense.

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