Biofuel or Biohazard?

Today the BBC ran a story entitled “UN Warns on Hazards of Biofuels” where they conclude “Current research concludes that using biomass for combined heat and power (CHP), rather than for transport fuels or other uses, is the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade – and also one of the cheapest.”

The report also correctly points out that “demand for biofuels has accelerated the clearing of primary forest for palm plantations, particularly in southeast Asia.”

There’s more: The report notes water is a concern, stating “The expanding world population and the on-going switch towards consumption of meat and dairy produce as incomes rise are already putting pressure on freshwater supplies, which increased growing of biofuel crops could exacerbate.”

These problems with biofuels, which we have explored in-depth in several posts, including “Ethanol & Water,” “Deforestation & Global Warming,” and literally dozens of others (ref. post categories Biofuel and Global Warming), can be boiled down to the following position: Global warming alarm, primarily manifested as a war against industrial CO2 emissions, has had one major impact so far, which is to launch devastating new rounds of tropical deforestation, which is exacerbating global drought, extreme weather, water scarcity, wildlife destruction, and, you guessed it, global warming.

There is a need for biofuel certification, and the ugly inconvenient truth is if you came up with a comprehensive set of criteria for biofuel certification, there may not be any environmentally justifiable reason to grow biofuel, other than in certain low yield applications in arid regions to stablize soil, and within contained, factory environments. Here are some of the criteria biofuel needs to meet:

(1) Biofuel cannot displace food crops.

(2) Biofuel cannot displace rainforest.

(3) Biofuel cannot displace critical wildlife habitat.

(4) Production of biofuel must be decisively energy positive.

(5) Biofuel must not exacerbate water scarcity, either in the growing or the refining process.

(6) Biofuel plantations cannot exploit local labor, or exclude local ownership.

(7) Biofuel use should be encouraged in the most efficient applications, such as combined heat and power, and not automatically be directed into the automotive sector.

(8) Biofuel produced using cellulosic extraction must not prevent valuable organic matter from returning to the soil.

Any other criteria? When viewed against these criteria, the potential for an environmentally correct biofuel industry becomes far more problematic than is generally acknowledged.

Whatever happened to “Save the Rainforests?”

One Response to “Biofuel or Biohazard?”
  1. Jack Sprat says:

    It is astonishing that the great environmental groups no longer care about the rainforests. Where is the ubiquitous “white paper” quantifying the area of tropical rainforest lost, year over year for the recent past years and accelerating in the future? Where is the dire projection, and the call to action – save the rainforest?

    Where are reliable numbers – how much area of biofuel plantations already exist that should be reverted to tropical rainforest? That is where these goofy carbon credits should go, if go they must, and nowhere else.

    Tropical rainforests create the monsoon circulation increasing moderate global storm circulation and transpirate rain back up and increase rain runoff to the rivers and more trees squester more water in the earth, and everything cools and settles down. This is the cause that would be worth the fanaticism, perhaps. To produce more and to plant more and to water the trees of the forest.


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