Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rush to Biofuels May Cause ‘Environmental Disaster’

It’s not that biofuels by themselves are a horrible idea, it’s the way people are going about them that’s pushing us towards an “environmental disaster.”

(
The same can be said of eating meat, by the way.)

According to a couple of “controversial” studies,
reports Discover Magazine, wiping out pristine wilderness to plant fuel crops causes a carbon debt that will take us decades to pay off. It’s the latest in a string of studies examining the link between land use and global warming. (From the Discover piece: “About 20 percent of total current carbon emissions comes from land-use change.”)

Basically, plants store carbon. They’re made up of it. They keep it out of the atmosphere. In fact, “Plants and soils contain almost three times as much carbon as the atmosphere.” This is good (it may be
part of the reason Earth didn’t end up a virtual Hell like Venus). But when you destroy millions of acres of plants, you send the carbon into the atmosphere. This is bad.

While biofuels, in theory are good for the environment (the fields of fuel stock should zero out tailpipe emissions, for example), the initial conversion of land causes a carbon debt that will take 93 to 167 years to repay (depending on the study you trust).

The big problem with our approach to biofuel is we’re thinking backwards instead of looking at new stuff, challenging ourselves to innovate. Corn? Please. That’s so PC. We need a Mac. One candidate is algae. According to the Discover article, “Algae may be the most promising biofuel… some species are made of up to 50% of their body weight in oil which can be extracted and processed to create biodiesel.”
More on algae here.

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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.