But, biofuels aren’t without controversy. Creating biofuels is not always carbon neutral. Clearing land, especially native plants, to grow crops for biofuels lowers the land’s capacity to capture carbon in the soil.
Royal Academy of Engineering report backs increased use of biofuels but says more should come from waste rather than food crops. Bioethanol, which replaces petrol (gasoline) and is produced from corn, wheat, sugarcane and sugar beet, failed to meet the 50% reduction when land use change was included. Wheat-based bioethanol was the worst performer, actually producing more carbon emissions than petrol.
When biofuels are burned, they emit roughly the same the amount of CO2 per unit of energy as petroleum fuels. Therefore, using biofuels instead of fossil fuels does not change how quickly CO2 flows into the climate bathtub. To reduce the buildup of atmospheric CO2 levels, biofuel production must open up the CO2 drain – that is, it must speed up the net rate at which carbon is removed from the atmosphere.
Unlike today’s energy crops, such as corn and soybeans, growing kelp doesn’t require land, fresh water or fertilizer. And giant kelp can grow over a foot per day under ideal conditions.
WHICH source of renewable energy is most important to the European Union? Solar power, perhaps? (Europe has three-quarters of the world’s total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy.) Or wind? (Germany trebled its wind-power capacity in the past decade.) The answer is neither. By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.
The most successful rehabilitations began with the recognition that the fuel being produced by bioengineered microbes was closely related to several other chemicals attached to much higher price tags. Genetic engineering may not have had the horsepower to produce hundreds of millions of liters of product per year, but it did have the finesse to tweak fuels into other products.
If you’ve pumped gas at a U.S. service station over the past decade, you’ve put biofuel in your tank. Thanks to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, almost all gasoline sold nationwide is required to contain 10% ethanol – a fuel made from plant sources, mainly corn.
As an Earth scientist, I was pleased to see it was the soil. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Farmers have known this for centuries.
Soil texture and soil microbes are key. It’s what a farmer does when he reaches down, scoops up some soil in his hands, looks at it, smells it and sighs.
This is especially important if you’re trying to capture carbon from the atmosphere and put it in plants that will produce biofuels for either running cars or running power plants.
Today, biofuels are mainly made from food crops and need large areas of land to be produced. Since most agricultural land is already being used to produce food for people, new areas have to be found to meet the ever-increasing demand for food and animal feed. This leads to deforestation and draining of rich ecosystems, releasing tonnes of greenhouse gases.
It is true that some species of algae produce oils that can be converted into fuel. It is also true that crude oil originated from algae and plankton that lived millions of years ago, died, sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and were ultimately converted into oil.
So the notion of converting algae into fuel isn't far-fetched. However, executing this process in real time is quite expensive.
When it comes to the future of advanced biofuel production, Abengoa Bioenergy, the Spanish company whose $500 million plant in Hugoton, Kan., opened on Friday, has just one word: plastics.
Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account...
It’s important to end society’s dependence on the use of non-renewable, carbon-based fuels. But this cannot be done at the expense of food crops (using corn to create ethanol, for example) or land used for food crops, as was the case with so-called first generation biofuels. The pressure this has put on food security in some parts of the world has blackened biofuels’ reputation.
The push for renewable energy in the U.S. often focuses on well-established sources of electricity: solar, wind and hydropower. Off the coast of California, a team of researchers is working on what they hope will become an energy source of the future — macroalgae, otherwise known as kelp.
Based largely on comparisons of tailpipe pollution and crop growth linked to biofuels, University of Michigan Energy Institute scientists estimated that powering an American vehicle with ethanol made from corn would have caused more carbon pollution than using gasoline during the eight years studied.
A push is on to get more energy from nonedible plants.
Biofuels are back. This time they might even work
In the past decade bioethanol production in both Brazil and the US has increased by around 300%. It’s estimated that the US now uses a third of its entire corn crop for the production of ethanol, whilst Brazil uses half of its sugar for the same purpose.
This diversion of food to fuel is having a serious impact on the lives of many of those who live in the least developed and developing countries. As food is diverted to ethanol production, upward pressure is put on both inflation and the price of food globally.
Making large amounts of fuel from organic matter has proved to be more difficult and costly than expected.
Biofuels are corrosive and cause cracking in steel, so the industry is dominated by trucks and rail, not our extensive and cheaper pipeline system.
While biofuels produced from agricultural crops can generate less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels, in practice, scientists are finding that some are causing environmental problems. Biofuels may also be hurting the poor. The reason is largely economic.
When a ‘solution’ to an environmental problem triggers a climate disaster.