Thursday, January 24, 2008

European Governments Push Back on Biofuel

As the world slides blindly from one dirty energy economy (fossil fuel) to another (biofuel), governments in Europe are beginning to open their eyes and pull the breaks.

the NY Times this week: “Governments in Europe and elsewhere have begun rolling back generous, across-the-board subsidies for biofuels, acknowledging that the environmental benefits of these fuels have often been overstated.”

“The biofuels craze was founded on the theory that plant-based fuels are carbon-neutral,” reports the Times. But that’s pretty much a fantasy. Yes, plants that turn into biofuel absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But that’s just part of the equation. Most people weren’t paying attention to the whole picture. The picture includes…
  • You’ve got to burn fuel (put more pollution in the atmosphere) to make biofuel. Consider the machinery used to cultivate crops, refine the fuel, ship it to market.
  • Biofuel crops need to be fertilized and fertilizer is not a healthy thing for the environment, especially the ecosystems of waterways and swampland.
  • Rich, biodiverse land is, in some cases, wiped out to make room for biofuel crops.
  • Since biofuel demand is outstripping the increase in supply of biofuel crops, unintended consequences like surging food prices are developing.
In the end, governments in Europe (and Canada) have found “there is increasing evidence that the total emissions and environmental damage from producing many ‘clean’ biofuels often outweigh their lower emissions when compared with fossil fuels,” reports the Times.

Of particular concern for long-term thinking governments is the very fuel stock we’re most excited about here in the United States: Corn. According to new Swiss and German regulations aimed at promoting sustainable biofuels, corn “will have trouble meeting the standard.”

The Swiss government, for example, is pushing for biofuels that reduce emissions from fuel by 40 percent. Corn hovers somewhere between 10 and 20 percent.

According to the Times, “Corn is a relatively inefficient crop for making biofuel, because it requires intensive processing and in most cases yields only a minor emissions benefit.”

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    I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.