A new report concludes that producing more biofuels in an effort to reduce CO2 emissions and avert climate change, will in fact result in somewhere between two and nine times as much CO2 being released as would be from fossil fuels, over the next 30 years. Quite a dramatic statement. Even the suggestion that 20% of the U.K.'s agricultural land could be turned-over to growing crops for biofuels emphasises the huge scale of providing biofuel on a scale significant to current use of fuel, derived mainly from petroleum.
It is difficult however, to contemplate such an action at a time of sharply rising food costs across the world, along with that of oil: the lifeblood of the global village. Most likely, the near emphasis will be on nations becoming as self-sufficient in food as possible, which would mean the U.K. producing another 50% of its own food in an inevitable compromise between growing crops for food or crops for fuel.
Thus, presumably, there is a sizeable proportion of non-arable land that is intended for use in the biofuels game, including forests. The latter is the focus of a study by Dr Renton Righelato of the conservation charity, the Woodland Trust, who emphasises that forest-land should not be cleared in order to grow fuel crops. The justification for "green fuel" is that as the crops grow they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and so the process of growth-harvesting-fuel production-fuel combustion is optimistically called "carbon neutral" implying a simple recycling of carbon-atoms in the chain.
Exactly how "neutral" biofuels are overall is a matter of considerable controversy, especially in the case of ethanol derived from corn. If it becomes necessary to clear forests, there will be a contribution to atmospheric CO2 since trees are highly effective absorbers of CO2 and also help maintain the integrity of the soil they grow in, which otherwise partially degrades, actually emitting CO2. Britain is "committed" to producing 10% of its fuel in the form of biofuel by 2020, apparently, it it manges to comply with E.U. plans on the subject.
According to Dr Righelato: "It is a mistake in climate change terms to use biofuels." The study is the first to reckon the complete CO2 emissions tally of planting, extraction and conversion into fuel. Reporting in the prestigious journal Science, his team concludes that the emission of somewhere between two and nine times more CO2 would be avoided by sequestering carbon in trees and forest soil than by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels.
It is estimated that 40% of Europe's agricultural land would be needed to produce sufficient crops to meet the 10% biofuel target, which is simply not feasible; nor is it in the United States, and hence it is likely that the demand will be borne for the West by developing nations. According to the National Farmers Union, 20% of Britain's agricultural land could be used to grow fuel-crops by 2010, but the Science report concludes that reforesting land would be a more effective means to cut CO2 emissions. The message is not one of "burn more oil" however, while planting more forests, but of curbing fossil fuel use and "moving to carbon-free alternatives such as renewable energy".
The latter we have heard many times before, as a kind of throwing-up of hands, but how exactly are we to substitute - quickly at that - oil-based transport (given rising oil prices and an imminent supply-demand gap for oil), if biofuels are not the answer, by "renewable energy"? It is the mobility of transportation that confounds here, compared say to basic electricity generation - hydrogen, electric cars what, how quickly and by what means?
"Biofuels switch a mistake, say researchers." By Tristan Farrow. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/aug/17/climatechange.energy