Corn and Rapeseed Biofuels Release More Greenhouse Gases Than Petroleum

Corn biofuels release more GHGs than oilShockingly, a new scientific study finds that two prominent biofuels release more total greenhouse gases (GHG) [more] than burning comparable amounts of oil and petroleum. This is because their release of nitrous oxide — a particularly potent GHG — has been vastly underestimated. Corn based biofuel [search], prevelant in the United States, was found to release up to 50% more GHGs than oil; and rapeseed based biofuel [search] which is the norm in Europe was found to release as much as 70% more GHGs. This finding highlights the fact that carbon is not the only GHG to be considered in fuel emissions.
Agrofuels produced by burning food crops have been tauted as a climate change solution with great economic benefits. In fact they have intensified deadly climate change and terrestrial ecosystem decline. Major concerns have emerged regarding food based biofuels and resultant increases in food prices [search], human rights issues [search], and loss of rainforests [search] and other natural habitats. And now we find it was all a lie that these biofuels protect the climate.
This current finding further illustrates the extent to which failure to reduce energy consumption through conservation and efficiency has lead to half-assed measures to try to maintain our wasteful levels of energy consumption that are doing more damage than good. We need real efforts to dramatically reduce the use of energy and resultant GHG emissions now if advanced human and natural systems are to survive.

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8 Responses

  1. Jonas says:

    The good thing is: most other biofuels are very good for the environment. These include (synthetic) biofuels made from crops like sugarcane, sorghum, tropical grasses, trees like eucalyptus, etc…
    Let's also not forget that soon carbon-negative biofuels will be produced (coupling biofuel production to carbon capture and storage); this doesn't only prevent emissions from occuring in the future (as do wind or solar energy), carbon-negative biofuels take historic emissions, from the past, out of the atmosphere.
    Finally, peak oil and energy insecurity are a far bigger threat to the environment and to societies than agriculture. We will see this when oil starts hitting $100 per barrel.
    In such a scenario, only biofuels can prevent catastrophic societal and environmental collapse in poor countries (and even in transition countries).
    High energy prices force people in the developing world to deforest and destroy the environment far quicker than either climate change or biofuels ever will.

  2. Samuel says:

    The argument that biofuels can at all act as a saviour to the environment is clearly not very well thought out. Even using the most efficient biofuels would require stripping away all of the remaining forest and wilderness we have left before we even have enough fuel for half of our transport needs. Even then we would all have to go hungry because there wouldn't be enough land to cultivate our basic foodstuffs.
    And yes, peak oil is a threat to the environment because it encourages countries to take up biofuels. They are inextricably interconnected and there is no point in asserting that it is all down to oil. If we were serious about using plants to lock up carbon we would be rapidly reforesting the planet, but the principal concern of most developed countries is the looming fuel crisis and not greenhouse emissions.
    How then could biofuels prevent "catastrophic and environmental collapse"? Worst of all, all of the biofuels that you recommend, Jonas, are tropical ones that yes, grow all year round and so are very productive compared to most other biofuels grown in temperate regions. But tropical rainforest soaks up vast amounts of carbon er square mile compared to the boreal and deciduous forests at higher latitudes. Not only that but they play a crucial part in keeping the tropics hydrated and not too hot by the massive amounts of water they transpire into the atmosphere to create very large clouds that reflect heat back into space. They are simply crucial to keeping this planet cool and stable and keeping carbon where it belongs. Per acre they lock up vastly more carbon then any biofuel substitute ever could.
    So we need to forget these tropical biofuels and start regrowing tropical forest wherever we can. Any remaining land should be used to grow food for the local inhabitants and those of us at the higher latitudes need to start being completely self sufficient and relying on very little or no food that is imported from tropical regions.
    Although I am not suggesting that we should, we would be much better off burning what remaining coal we have in the ground (several hundred years worth) than taking to biofuels. I think it would be much better to get a methanol or hydrogen economy up and running that is fuelled with a combination of nuclear and renewable energy. But at no point should we be considering biofuels.

  3. Jean Erasmus says:

    In my profession, it is known to NOT treat the symptom, but to find the CAUSE and cure it; then the symptom will go away anyway.
    Climate Change is a symptom of many things that we are blind to. For a start, it is a reductionist approach to assume that humankind is the ONLY cause for Climate Change. Closely studying the Vostok Ice drillings of Antartica, one will notice that there is a [roughly] 26 000 year earthly cycle divided in 5 minor cycles of massive global cimate peaks and troughs. Roughly every 26 000 years, the global temperatures will peak, and then fall to the lowest trough and thus the interglacial period will give way to the glacial period (most prominent hypothesis so far is that of the shut down of the Gulf Stream by excesive desalination of the oceans by melting permafrost and ice-bergs). The most prominent and potent green house gas (seen in the Vostok ice cores) is Methane which makes an almost perfect 5 cycle graph. And the bad news is – we are now in the last stages of the fifth and final temperature peak before the lowest trough.
    When it comes to the human factor; I think (not being alone on this matter) that humankind is changing a walking pace to the lowest trough, a galloping one. In other words, we are making an already normal cycle much worse, thus speeding up the effects. And we are doing this by being the most energy and resource hungry species on the planet (using more than 70% of it's resources), our numbers exploding out of proportion to the resource/ user ratio. We are almost like a cancer of a host – multiplying like wildfire and consuming all the energy.
    Our problem (or diagnosis), is that of a species that is too energy hungry. Western civilization's lifestyle is that of massive energy and resource consumption and very little efficiency. Thus, biofuel is only addressing the symptom, and not the cause for this whole dillemma. It might be a short term solution, but in the end – we are feeding our cars edible crops, in stead of our children. Think about it…

  4. Simon D. says:

    It is worth noting that the study in question, while quite interesting, is still under open review. Also, the issue is nitrous oxide not nitric oxide.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Now we are on track. treating the oroginal causes – like the original sin.j Shut down all oroginal coal, oil and gas fed electricity generating planttw. and not license any new ones. Dont' fart around with increemental improvementrs with existent plants that is marginal.

  6. Global Warming!!
    $125,000 thousand dollar reward to any person that can prove 'man' is the
    cause of Global Warming
    Thomas Laprade
    Thunder Bay, Ont.
    Ph. 807 3457258

  7. BuddhalovesPaine says:

    Biofuels were a stupid idea to begin with. This info should kill off any investment projects in this area.

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