Biofuels were under the microscope all summer in the U.S. due to drought-prompted concerns about the bite they can take out of food supplies. Now they’re under assault by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), who’ve made the blunt assessment that “most biofuels are not green.”
The researchers there say they studied the full life-cycle impact of biofuels – looking at what the fuels consume, what they produce and what they cause, a concept Europeans call “ecobalance” – and found “only a few biofuels (have) an overall better ecobalance than petrol.”
Biogas from “residues and waste materials” fare best in this study, an update and expansion on a 2007 report by EMPA, done in collaboration with Agroscope Reckenholz-Tankion and the Paul Scherrer Institute. Depending on the precise source material, biogas can have about half the impact on the environment that petrol does, the researchers say.
Ethanol-based fuels (corn and sugar cane are the most common inputs) generally have a better ecobalance than do oil-based fuels (think: soybean or palm oil), EMPA says. This is in line with European Commission data that came out earlier this year, which showed palm oil and soybean-derived fuels having a carbon footprint nearly as large as the notorious tar sands oil.
The worst-case biofuel scenario is when rain forests are felled to make way for crops that get channeled to making fuel. Biofuels produced from these lands are the ones that “usually emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels,” according to the researchers. This can happen even when the deforested land doesn’t move directly to biofuel crop production; using existing ag land to grow crops for biofuels can lead to other forested areas being cleared to make up for the lost food production. That’s the pernicious indirect land use change phenomenon.
SOURCE: Huffington Post