24 Apr 2008

Kill Biofuels

Food prices are up, and people are upset. "Experts" quoted in the NYT seem to think there are "few quick fixes" to the food shortage. How about canceling the ridiculous biofuels/ethanol programs in Europe and the US? As Mark Lynas points out:
Next year, the use of US corn for ethanol is forecast to rise to 114 million tonnes - nearly a third of the whole projected US crop. American cars now burn enough corn to cover all the import needs of the 82 nations classed by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as "low-income food-deficit countries". There could scarcely be a better way to starve the poor.

[why? to meet "tough" obligations without pain:]

The EU, meanwhile, persists in the erroneous belief that biofuels can help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The main reason for its speedy introduction of the replacement fuel initiative was as a sop to motor manufacturers who were lobbying hard against proposed higher fuel economy standards. With biofuels, the EU hoped, it could cave in to the car industry while still getting reduction in emissions.

[and it's not even for a good cause:]

two major studies published in Science magazine in February showed clearly that once the agricultural displacement effects of the new fuels on rainforests, peatlands and grasslands are taken into account, emissions are many times worse than from conventional mineral petrol. In other words, it would be better for the climate if we just went back to fossil fuels. Biofuels are not a "necessary but painful" way of saving the climate; they are a calamitous mistake by almost every criterion, whether social, ethical or environmental.
Bottom Line: Governments should not choose winners. Governments should set a carbon tax and let markets and competition produce the winners.


  1. Hey yo.

    I thought this would be right up your alley.

  2. What about algal biofuels?

    There is no need for arable land or freshwater - in fact the Aquatic Species Program, a research initiative addressing this same topic run by the DOE from 1978-1996, illustrates the feasibility of this avenue by surmising that, "...at $20/barrel it is not cost effective....but at $40..."

    The technology is already proven. Algae are the single most abundant plant cells on the planet, they grow exponentially faster than terrestrial plants, and lend themselves to genetic manipulation much more easily as well.

    There are several companies looking to use this technology - a few are set to pair up with cellulosic sugar producers to feed their engineered strains heterotrophically in fermentation tanks. Solazyme is one of these and they have partnered with Chevron Venture Technolgies. These companies are definitely NOT part of the solution! They still exert the same negative commodity pressures while increasing the overall emissions - i.e. manufacture of the fermentation plants.

    The SOLUTION is to farm algae - yes that's right, farming. This way carbon dioxide is sequestered, either passively or actively from power plants. The evidence is all in the Aquatic Species Program Review.

    There are several companies attempting this route - one in Northern CA, Aurora Biofuels, is on the right path.

  3. J,

    I saw a story on algae a few months ago. Makes sense to me, but why is it not more widespread. The ethanol subsidies and requirements do not make algae illegal, so there must be some scientific/economic reason that algae is NOT cost effective @$40/bbl.

    Any ideas?


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