At least that’s what a new study says. I think it paints with a pretty broad brush, because I do in fact think some can be green. But a new study published in Science, echoing the themes of an earlier study I highlighted, concludes that almost all biofuels in use today will increase greenhouse gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal reports:
While the U.S. and others race to expand the use and production of biofuels, two new studies suggest these gasoline alternatives actually will increase carbon-dioxide levels.
A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, a type of biofuel pushed heavily in the U.S., will nearly double the output of greenhouse-gas emissions instead of reducing them by about one-fifth by some estimates. A separate paper in Science concludes that clearing native habitats to grow crops for biofuel generally will lead to more carbon emissions.
Land-use changes can have big and unintended consequences, such as food shortages and reduced biodiversity. For example, when forests or grasslands are converted for agricultural use, it leads to a large, quick release of carbon when the existing plant life is destroyed and the soil is tilled. Even if biofuels are grown on cropland previously used to grow food, farmers tend to then clear other forests and grasslands and grow the food elsewhere.
“Even if we’re dramatically wrong, it’s hard to get to a result that says you get a benefit over 50 years,” said Timothy Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton University and a co-author of the paper on corn-based ethanol.
Not surprisingly, the corn ethanol lobby disagrees:
“We absolutely assert that ethanol production and use is a responsible way to address the environmental, energy and economic challenges the world faces today,” spokesman Matt Hartwig said. He said the group’s researchers will study the papers and formulate a response.
Assertions are great, but I prefer science. And science is winning the war against corn ethanol. But I have my doubts that the political battle will ever be won.