There were a couple of recently-released studies on biofuels that readers have e-mailed to me or commented on. I will highlight them here.
The first involves a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. One of the authors is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist recognized for his work on atmospheric chemistry. The (UK) Times reports:
Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save.
Other biofuels, especially those likely to see greater use over the next decade, performed better than fossil fuels but the study raises serious questions about some of the most commonly produced varieties.
Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised.
I am sure this study will be downplayed by the ethanol lobby, just as the previous Mark Jacobson study was.
“One wants rational decisions rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon because superficially something appears to reduce emissions,” said Keith Smith, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and one of the researchers.
Rational decisions? Wishful thinking. The decisions being made are political, not rational. Those categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in this case they are.
The second study relates to one of my big concerns over corn ethanol production, specifically in dry locations:
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – The U.S. craze for ethanol could severely strain an already ailing aquifer in key farm states, increasing demand for scarce water supplies by more than 2 billion gallons a year, according to a report issued Thursday by the nonprofit group Environmental Defense.
The environmental group’s report focused on the Ogallala aquifer, an 800-mile-long underground pool that stretches from Texas to South Dakota. The Ogallala feeds one-fifth of all the irrigated land in the United States, and is critical to farmers growing corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and other crops.
“The Ogallala Aquifer is a microcosm of the challenges we’ll face in America as we develop renewable fuels,” said Martha Roberts, co-author of the report and a fellow at Environmental Defense. “Nine new ethanol plants are already planned for some of the most water-depleted areas of the Ogallala Aquifer, even though those areas are vulnerable to erosion and the entire region’s water resources are stretched thin.”
How short-sighted we are. We are gambling with the food supply, but our political leaders are too blind to see it. As one reader put it, “Can you say Dust Bowl?”