Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Biofuel's False Promises.

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?

Related Reading.
"Biofuels switch a mistake, say researchers." By Tristan Farrow.


Anonymous said...

adapting buildings and cities for climate change

This challenging and exciting text gives an insight into the real changes that are necessary to give our modern day built environment both 'sustainability' and 'survivability'.

The book is based on the premise that climate change is going to happen and its impacts on our lives are going to be far worse than generally expected. Sue Roaf argues that many modern buildings are not only 'unsustainable' in themselves but are also having a catastrophic effect on the global climate.

In a unique argument, she illustrates that the only way we can hope to survive the following century in fact is if we not only begin to radically reduce CO2 emissions from our buildings and stop building climatically disastrous building types but also build only the buildings that can survive in the changed climates of the future.

Throughout the book, traditional and modern building types are used to: explain the history and impacts of climates past, present and future on buildings; set the scene in terms of the history of building development of where we are now and where we are going in terms of sustainability and survivability of buildings; develop two main scenarios of future building development with the 'business as usual' model and the 'survival plan' model, and to make a list of recommendations based on the two scenarios of what actions should be taken by architects, planners and engineers as well as local and national governments, businesses and ordinary people in ensuring the true sustainable nature of the built environment. >from *Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change. A 21st Century Survival Guide* by Sue Roaf, David Crichton and Fergus Nicol. ISBN: 0-7506-6099-6. Published December 14, 2004

***Energy-inefficient houses help to suck up the 50% of the entire US energy demand. The 50% that goes into powering buildings.***

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the link is to my comment above is -

Anonymous said...

An ongoing discussion to rebuild or revamp cities block by block, including an announced design competition.

The founder of the above group is also working with the prestigious Rocky Mountain Institute, please see here -

Building Sustainable Cities, Block by Block

It is widely expected that half of the world's population will or likely is already living in an urban setting.
Sustain_ably yours

Anonymous said...

The BEST way to reduce CO2 is for you to DIE....that is right! If you die, your useage of energy drops to zero, and so does the resulting CO2 footprint.

Of course, thos only stops man-made CO2 which is less than 1/100 of a percent, with the remaining 99.999% caused by nature and natural forces beyond the control of man.

Bankrupting a society, or killing them off for some weird reason, does little to help either the people or the environment. Because, without people and energy, their time is spent trying to survive, with no resources left to help anything environmentally related.

This crusade has not become one about building a better society, it has mutated into a leveling down of society to some value below a third or fourth world country. Why do people follow like lemmings on this?

Building more efficient buildings is a noble goal...but will take generations. It definately is worth the effort. But it is not realistic to expect this to make one bit of difference in the CO2 timetable as presently promoted.

And, if government does all this rebuilding, remember where government gets ALL of its money, through taxes. And this process, less the government take for its operational expenses, is what is left to affect a change....and this is highly inefficient indeed.

Biofuel is helped by gov. taxes. This takes money from your right pocket, gives it to farmers (transporters and a slew of others), who profit from it, and it is mixed with the gasoline, to reduce it's cost and increase the volume of combustable liquid. So the money from your right pocket, less operating costs, is contributed back to your left pocket. To bad it always results in a loss.

The old cowboy saying is "the surest way to double your money is to fold it over and shove it back into your pocket".

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

A good point. It's shame we didn't begin trying to save energy before now, since as you say, it will take generations, and will there be enough energy and raw-materials to build all that is needed?

The scariest scenario I have heard of is the die-off and in one analysis 2/3 of the present near 7 billion humans will die by the year 2100. Then, for sure, we will emit a lot less CO2 that presently.