This week articles in Science and Scientific American blasted the use of crops as biofuel feedstocks. The studies question the environmental benefits of ethanol, forecasting gloomy scenarios based on corn-ethanol farming technologies as they exists today. They do so by effectively changing the way the carbon footprint of the fuel is calculated by directly linking global forest and land depletion to biofuels.
However, the real driver of forest depletion is not biofuels, its people. Population growth across the globe is increasing demand for agricultural land for food, clothing, etc. If biofuels production stopped altogether, the deforestation outlined in the study would not change. It’s erroneous to link agriculture expansion solely to biofuels, when all agriculture products make up the demand for land. Past studies have singled out organic farming practices, animal feed, and coffee – to name a few. This study has opted to ignore all other agricultural sectors, see here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=biofuels-bad-for-people-and-climate
Propel is providing access to the cleanest low carbon fuels available. Fuels that solve the problem, not add to it. Our feedstocks come from sustainable sources that do not deplete our essential forest lands. The world’s current fuel, petroleum – is not sustainable. And while a few scientists focus on calculating worst case scenarios, there are scientists and businesses actively working on second generation, low impact feedstocks, like algae, that have huge potential to provide truly sustainable biofuels.
So what are other experts saying? Here’s a sample…
There are no easy solutions to a low-carbon transportation sector that do not require a significant contribution from biofuels. The challenges facing vehicle efficiency, electrification, VMT reductions, smart growth are different from those facing biofuels (they lessen the benefits we can get instead of risking costs), but for me, they do mean that the just-say-no approach to biofuels is irresponsible.
25x’25 Responds to Media Coverage of Studies Published in Science Magazine
Studies recently detailed in Science magazine address the possible consequences of a faulty approach to utilizing lands to produce biofuel feedstocks. Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the studies failed to report that they also identified ways to avoid these problems and insure that future biofuels give us both a new renewable energy source and greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Comment from Tim Raphael of Pac Ethanol
from Grist article: http://www.grist.org/news/2008/02/08/biofu/index.html
Land Use Impacts Analysis Flawed
Why should US-based corn ethanol, other crop-based biofuels, or advanced cellulosic fuels take a carbon hit for international land use changes for food or housing or other non-fuel related production? By that logic:
* Any US farmland not growing food crops is creating a carbon debt by increasing demand for international food production–What are the “secondary land use impacts” of US grass seed farmers? Or tobacco farmers? Or nursery owners? Or cotton, tomatoes grapes and a myriad of other non-food related agricultural acreage in the US?
* Every new subdivision and greenfield commercial, industrial or residential development creates a carbon debt by taking potential food-producing land out of production and shifting that demand to sensitive, international native ecosystems; and
* Any effort in the US to protect ancient forests or native ecosystems creates a carbon debt by increasing demand for international sources of wood products.
Any analysis that shifts away from a life cycle analysis of the carbon potential for a single product or fuel and attempts to distribute carbon potential to “secondary” or “tertiary” impacts will create a dead-end, through-the-looking-glass scenario that is inaccurate and unworkable.
The real implication of accepting “secondary land use impacts” is an on-going dependence on CO2 intensive, polluting, imported fossil fuels. Inclusion of secondary impacts is the wrong approach–each product should stand on its own.
It’s Not Acre for Acre – Productivity Gains Means We Get More From Less
The analyses of land use impacts assume that for every acre of land dedicated to renewable energy feedstocks, another acre of land must be put into production elsewhere in the world. This assumption is flawed for several reasons:
* It fails to account for advances in seed and processing technology that are providing greater yields for each acre of feedstock.
* Corn acreage in the US peaked in 1917 with 116 million acres planted, compared to 93 million acres in 2007. During that period yields have increased by more than 1 bushel/acre/year, from 29 bushels/acre to 200 bushels/acre. This year the US will harvest more than 10 billion bushels of corn, and exports are rising, so certainly US corn ethanol production is not causing a need for increased grain production in the world.
* It ignores the value of the feed co-products that are produced at today’s biorefineries.
* The food value of corn is not lost in ethanol production–distillers grain is a high protein, high nutrient co-product that is sold back into the food market.
* It inappropriately assigns all of the impact to growth in renewable fuels, ignoring the effects of a growing world economy, increased demand for food, and urban sprawl.
The Environmental Impacts of Fossil Fuels are Increasing
The reports fail to account for the fact that every gallon of biofuel produced today requires less land, requires less water and is less energy intensive than a decade ago, while the opposite is true for oil production. Every new gallon of oil produced is more energy intensive and requires much more water than before.
The “easy” sources of oil have been found and are being depleted. What is left are more remote, costlier and more environmentally damaging nontraditional sources like Canadian tar sands or Rocky Mountain oil shale. By failing to capitalize on the opportunity renewable fuels offer to begin breaking our adherence to the oil standard, the world would be forced to develop these nontraditional sources of oil that carry significant environmental price tags.
Even traditional sources of oil have steep environmental costs that are not accounted for in the land use reports. Where is the accounting for oil drilling in the Amazon? Oil spills in San Francisco Bay? Or asthma deaths from air pollution?