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PlaNet News & Views

Posted on 11-2-08

Bullshit As Biofuel
By Alan Marston February 10, 2008
If its popular with `business' its probably polluting the planet's
consciousness. And biofuel fits the bill, unsurprisingly biofuel crops
increase global warming carbon emissions.
Research has recently discovered converting rainforests, peatlands and
grasslands outweighs the carbon savings made from biofuels and produces
carbon debts which take centuries to pay off, ie., can't be paid off. The
study confirms my instinct that the ability of biofuels to replace fossil
fuels is a con, bought by governments but hopefully soon to be un-bought,
for instance the EU is reviewing its pledge that biofuels such as
bioethanol and biodiesel should make up 10% of transport fuel by 2020. The
New Zealand Government has yet to take a second look at the `green' fuel.
In the study that revealed the reality behind the corporate-propaganda US
researchers calculated that converting natural ecosystems to grow corn or
sugarcane to produce ethanol, or palms or soybeans for biodiesel, could
release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from
replacing fossil fuels. This due to the carbon contained in the original
plants and soils which is released as CO2 when the vegetation rots after
it is cleared. The researchers said this carbon debt must be paid before
biofuels produced on the land could count towards reducing greenhouse gas
emissions. "This research examines the conversion of land for biofuels and
asks the question 'Is it worth it?'" said Joe Fargione, a scientist for
the environmental group The Nature Conservancy. "Does the carbon you lose
by converting forests, grasslands and peatlands outweigh the carbon you
'save' by using biofuels instead of fossil fuels? And surprisingly, the
answer is no."
Research results for Indonesia indicated that converting land for palm oil
production ran up the worst carbon debts, requiring 423 years to pay off.
Producing soybeans in the Amazon would take 319 years of soy biodiesel to
offset the carbon debt.
Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota, one of the authors of the
study, published today in the journal Science, said: "We don't have proper
incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil
and other products but not rewarded for carbon management. This creates
incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases
in carbon emissions."
Fargione said all biofuels now in use destroyed habitats. "Producing
food-based biofuel will require that still more land be converted to
agriculture," he said. The team also identified biofuels which did not
contribute to global warming, including agricultural waste and grasses
grown on land not suitable for crops. "Biofuels made on perennial crops
grown on degraded land that is no longer useful for growing food crops may
actually help us fight global warming," said Jason Hill of the University
of Minnesota, who also took part in the study. "One example is ethanol
made from diverse mixtures of native prairie plants."
Most biofuel is bullshit, which may sell well but adds to the pollutant
load that's already a crushing burden.