Friday, December 2, 2011

Eco-nomics: Biofuels Might Not be the Answer

Photo Credit: Tiffany Woods

A new study by Bill Jaeger and others at OSU questions whether biofuels would do much to displace fossil fuels and would likely lead to increased, not decreased, greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is an excerpt from the press release:

"Our results suggest that existing biofuel policies have been very costly, produce negligible reductions in fossil fuel use and increase, rather than decrease, greenhouse gas emissions," said Jaeger, a professor in the agricultural and resource economics department at OSU.

Biofuels were initially seen as a solution to energy and environmental problems, Jaeger said, because the carbon dioxide that's emitted when they're burned is equivalent to what they had absorbed from the atmosphere when the crops were growing. Thus, biofuels were assumed to add little or no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

But the bigger picture is more complex, Jaeger said, in part because biofuels are produced and transported using fossil fuels. For example, nitrogen fertilizer, which is made using natural gas, is used to grow corn for ethanol. Additionally, growing biofuel feedstocks can push food production onto previously unfarmed land, according to well-documented research, Jaeger said. When this new acreage is cleared and tilled, it can release carbon that accumulated over long periods in soil and vegetation, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

The costs of these side effects tend to be overlooked by policies that focus only on gallon-for-gallon substitutions, he added.

You can see the original paper here.

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