Biofuel Madness

Biofuels are unfortunately an important part of European Union and United Kingdom policy. At the moment the United Kingdom sources about 3% of its vehicle fuel from plants, which have starchy or woody cellulose content, which is fermented to create ethanol. In the United States a great deal of ethanol is made from corn. Biofuels are used in transport and in heating.

Growing fuel instead of digging for it or drilling for it may sound sustainable and environmentally friendly, but things are not always as they appear. The theory behind biofuels is that they are renewable; instead of depleting a fossil fuel source humanity may grow as much fuel as it needs. The carbon dioxide emitted by burning biofuels will be taken from the atmosphere by more biofuel plants, which will photosynthesise it thus removing it from the air and create more biofuels with the carbon dioxide.

That is a simplistic view of biofuels, and it fails to look at the whole life cycle impact of biofuel production. The simplistic theory might be for practical purposes workable if we had unlimited land resources and a small world population. However, people are populous and land is finite – as Mark Twain remarked “they stopped making it”.

The growth of biofuels has led to some unintended consequences. Good land used for food is now used for energy; food prices have risen. Many forests particularly in the tropics have been cut down for biofuel plantations; much of the wood has been burnt, and the soil disturbed creating a large spike of emissions; biodiversity has been lost and rows of palm oil trees now replace what was an important alveoli and air conditioner for the planet.

There are biofuels that can be sustainably grown in places where the land is not fit for anything else, and which can be cropped with no significant adverse environmental impact. At the moment about a third of the United Kingdom’s biofuel falls into this category and unfortunately local law and EU regulations do not distinguish between good biofuel and bad biofuel. It is about time we did.

2 Responses

  1. Mr. Kyriakides still has not done his research in this area. This is the 2nd time he has generically spoken out against biofuels without understanding the issues.

    He is throwing out the baby with the bathwater in that he is lumping 1st generation feedstock with 2nd generation feedstock. While my firm is heavily involved in 2nd generation feedstock production, we actively lobby against 1st generation feedstock sourced biofuels. This article makes no differentiation between the two therefore is invalid.

    If you want to take up a good fight, then EV’s and Plug-in hybrids would be the appropriate target. Replacing liquid fueled vehicles with electric powered vehicles directly increases the most health impacting emission particulates into the air and our oceans – heavy metals from coal burning power plants. While the over-all volume of emissions from EV’s is lower than gasoline and petroleum diesel vehicles, US power plants are still primarily coal powered and so an increase in electricity consumption is worse from a health perspective than emissions from 2nd generation feedstock sourced biodiesel by 3 orders of magnitude (the emissions of one EV that is recharged from a coal powered plant has more direct human health impact than thousands of advanced diesel vehicles burning B100). Very simply, until EV’s are charged from renewable sources (or off-grid for electricity source control), they will be the direct catalyst for the health issues and deaths of many more people. Popular: EV’s and Hybrids are not our Future

  2. The EU directive does not distinguish between first second or tenth generation biofuels.
    I have mentioned the fact that electric powered vehicles usually simply remove emissions and particulates from one place to another and often at a higher environmental expense. It is all here on the blog.
    I understand your point about your business but simply argue that we have to look at whole life cycles, and I am unaware of any direct published research on second generation biofuel..

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