Sunday, April 06, 2008

Biofuels Are Losing Their Clean Energy Label

Heralded as an answer to both attaining energy independence and limiting global warming biofuels have enjoyed great popularity during the last few years even though concerns about using crops for fuel instead of food has raised concerns in many places. Biofuels have become so popular in fact that last year Congress passed legislation mandating that the US produce 36 billion gallons of the stuff annually by 2022. However, here we are only a few months after this legislation was passed and signed and it appears that the wheels are starting to come off the biofuels bandwagon. Biofuels have lost their “green” appeal almost overnight because scientists have found that rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared with burning gasoline biofuels for the most part increase greenhouse gas emissions.

It turns out that the main problem with biofuels is that when land clearing to plant the crops is included in the equation the amount of carbon released from the cleared plants is so great that it dwarfs the carbon saved by using biofuels versus gasoline. Biofuels were thought to produce less carbon emissions because the next crop of plants sequester as much carbon as is released by burning ethanol or biodiesel. The crop clearing “inconvenient truth” is described in a Time magazine article by Michael Grunwald called The Clean Energy Scam. Grunwald concludes his article by saying that:

Advocates are always careful to point out that biofuels are only part of the solution to global warming, that the world also needs more energy-efficient light bulbs and homes and factories and lifestyles. And the world does need all those things. But the world is still going to be fighting an uphill battle until it realizes that right now, biofuels aren't part of the solution at all. They're part of the problem.

The challenge facing the environmentalists is convince the public and politicians that biofuels should not be used after there has been so much written and said about the benefits of using biofuels. This could be a tough sell.

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