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If Not Grown Wisely, Biofuels Can Emit 55 Times More CO2 Than Fossil Fuels


An interesting MIT study reveals that biofuels can in some circumstances generate on average 10 times more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, depending on how they’re produced. The study involved a life-cycle analysis of 14 biofuel sources.

“What we found was that technologies that look very promising could also result in high emissions, if done improperly,” says James Hileman, principal research engineer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “You can’t simply say a biofuel is good or bad – it depends on how i’s produced and processed, and tha’s part of the debate that hasn’t been brought forward.”

The researchers said that, for example, palm oil emitted 55 times more carbon dioxide if the palm plantation was located in a converted rainforest.”Severe cases of land-use change could make coal-to-liquid fuels look green,” says Hileman.

Such an analysis doesn’t shine any good light onto the biofuels industry, which is as sensitive as a feather when it comes to the life cycle analysis. According to the study, any disturbance in the cycle of growing the biofuel crops could lead to huge differences in the net carbon output.

The general idea is that we should grow biofuel crops on lands that don’t have any other use and find the plants that ultimately grow in such places, for the sake of not disturbing the already fragile ecosystem we live in.

[via tgdaily]

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  1. It amazes me how narrow minds only hear and regurgitate what they want to believe and entirely dismiss any premises found in intelligent discussion such as, “can in some circumstances”, “depending on how they’re produced”, “if done improperly” and “part of the debate that hasn’t been brought forward.”
    Most biofuels production does not use any more water than oil and fossil fuel extraction but the water used, as well as the biofuels themselves, are not thereafter toxic to the environment. Biofuel production in more cases than not does not need or use ‘Fresh Drinking Water’ as many either recycle their process water to reclaim excess inputs such as yeast or actually produce biofuels from the clean-up of wastewater in the first place.
    Try a new misdirection J.W. cause this dog don’t bite, just annoys the neighbors with its faithfully confused barking…

  2. Why do plants produce co2 ? because they take co2 from the air to build the plant ! then we burn it and put it back ready for next plant to use.

  3. Dear all

    beside the “emmissions ”

    Pls kindly do not forget the huge quantities of Fresh Drinking Water that are needed
    for the production of “BIOFUELS”.

    Yours Faithfully
    E.Mail: [email protected]

  4. Quote from the study – “You can’t simply say a biofuel is good or bad — it depends on how it’s produced and processed, and that’s part of the debate that hasn’t been brought forward.” This debate is front and center for those who remain current. What isn’t front and center is the accurate comparison to conventional fossil fuels. The marginal resource such as tar sands or fracked oil shale which is the ‘new conventional fuels’ that biofuels will replace are inappropriately rolled into an ‘average of all present production. This is poor statistics and disingenuous. Even ‘corn ethanol’ with discredited ILUC penalties is better than these marginal petroleum resources. Some uses like aviation will require drop-in fuels, but all land based transport can utilize ethanol at equal or improved thermal efficiencies (also never accounted for). The last statement “The general idea is that we should grow biofuel crops on lands that don’t have any other use and find the plants that ultimately grow in such places, for the sake of not disturbing the already fragile ecosystem we live in.” shows a total misunderstanding of future of biofuels which is based on waste and extending the natural carbon cycle by capturing and using waste CO2. Food and fuel need to be an integrated part of our world, not academically segmented into fragments. Until the fossil fuel era, this was the nature of all fuels. Today, even corn ethanol is largely based on the ‘waste starch’ that cannot be digested by livestock and comes out in the manure. This starch is just extracted before it goes through the animal. While not being incorrect this article and study do nothing to inform us of the real issues surrounding biofuels.

  5. I am not sure if Larry thinks that raising CO2 would be great or that he thinks it would be great if biofuels in totality are shown to increase CO2 and therefore shouldn’t be pursued?
    Regardless of opinions, what most people fail to understand is systems mechanics. Global systems are interactive and despite their unpredictability, an increasing percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere coupled with a decrease in CO2 sequestration mechanisms such as forests will inevitably change many regional environmental conditions that we have come to expect.
    A blanket statement such as “more CO2 = lusher and bountiful earth with more food and O2 for all” sounds like a common sense analysis but in actuality is completely disingenuous in lacking the understanding that food crops need much more than plentiful CO2 to thrive. They need relative temperature and precipitation stability among other factors to successfully grow. Weather and precipitation patterns are affected by the amounts of CO2 in the environment whether or not we like it or can with any reliability predict just how or when changes may happen.
    In not understanding complex, interactive systems, it is very easy to opine platitudes that sound reasonable but have in reality, no basis in fact.

  6. What this study does not take into account is that deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia is first caused by the lucrative lumber industry and the ravenous paper pulp industry. Deforestation has been going on for decades – long before biofuels became a factor. In Brazil, after the big lumber is taken, the small trees are cut and burned, so cattle can be grazed on the land. Some lands are planted in soybeans, 70% of which are used to feed livestock – for food production. Only the oil component is taken from any soybeans that are used to make biodiesel. The remaining 80 percent soybean cake also becomes livestock feed.

    The MIT study is defective, because it omits other causes of deforestation, and the economics are all wrong. Besides CO2 is only one component of climate change. Flared methane, sulfurous black carbon soot, benzene and an alphabet soup of aromatics and carcinogens emitted by fossil fuels, are much more dangerous than CO2.

  7. If this were only true, it would be great, however I suspect that the folks conducting these studies are cooking the CO2 books.

    It is rather obvious that if we could increase the CO2 in our atmosphere, we would have a lusher and more bountiful earth, with more food and more oxygen for all.

    Unfortunatly anthropogenic global warming is a hoax, and it is the height of arrogance to think man kind can change the climate, for better or worse.


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