Washington DC - Two new studies published in Science magazine claim that biofuels use could actually increase the amount of greenhouse gases in our planet's atmosphere. Researchers say converting forests and grasslands to ethanol producing corn or oil palm plants could actually double the CO2 levels over the next thirty years.
Corn and palm oil-based ethanol had been touted by scientists as potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% versus petroleum. Previous research had also claimed that a switch to biofuels would lead to a net 20% reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gases (when you take into account the energy needed to produce the crops). However, according to Timothy Searchinger, co-author of the first study and a researcher at Princeton University, these claims are bogus.
Searchinger says switching to biofuels will actually double CO2 levels because there is a huge and immediate release in carbon as the forests and other plant-rich lands are cleared for crop growing. He also contends that farmers will clear even more land because most of the corn will be diverted to ethanol production.
David Tilman, co-author of the second study and a researcher at the University of Minnesota, says biofuel production produces tens to hundreds of times more greenhouse gas emissions than any amount saved. According to Tilman, sugarcane - a popular crop for ethanol production - produces 17 times more CO2 than can be saved from burning ethanol. Palm ethanol is even worse and produces 420 times more CO2 than saved.
Of course some researchers have been claiming that biofuel production would actually cause a net increase in greenhouse gases because of all the energy required (gasoline to power tractors, people to pick crops, etc) to produce the crops, but seems to be the first time that anyone has attached any numbers to the issue.
Oh well, it looks like we are screwed no matter what. Maybe we should just return to our caves.
Source - Wall Street Journal