lunes, febrero 09, 2009

Study Finds that Biofuels Require Increased Fossil Fuel Usage and Take Food off Peoples' Tables


Study highlights problems linked to converting crops into biofuels. Taking up valuable land and growing edible crops for biofuels poses a dilemma: Is it ethical to produce inefficient renewable energies at the expense of an already malnourished population?

David Pimentel and his colleagues from Cornell University in New York State highlight the problems linked to converting a variety of crops into biofuels. Not only are these renewable energies inefficient, they are also economically and environmentally costly and nowhere near as productive as projected. Their findings are published online in Springer's journal Human Ecology.

In the context of global shortages of fossil energy - oil and natural gas in particular - governments worldwide are focusing on biofuels as renewable energy alternatives. In parallel, almost 60 percent of the world's population is malnourished increasing the need for grains and other basic foods. Growing crops, including corn, sugarcane and soybean, for fuel uses water and energy resources vital for the production of food for human consumption.

Professor Pimentel and his team review the availability and use of land, water and current energy resources globally, and then look at the situation in the US specifically. They also analyze biomass resources and show that there is insufficient US biomass for both ethanol and biodiesel production to make the US oil independent.

Their paper then looks at the efficiency and costs associated with converting a range of crops into energy and shows that in each case more energy is required for this process than they actually produce as fuel. The research finds a negative energy return of 46 percent for corn ethanol, 50 percent for switchgrass, 63 percent for soybean biodiesel and 58 percent for rapeseed. Even the most promising palm oil production results in a minus 8 percent net energy return. There are also a number of environmental problems linked to converting crops for biofuels, including water pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, global warming, soil erosion and air pollution.

In the researchers' opinion, there is simply not enough land, water and energy to produce biofuels. They also argue that ironically, the US is becoming more oil-dependent, not less, as was intended through the production of biofuels. In most cases, more fossil energy is required to produce a unit of biofuel compared with the energy that it provides. As a result, the US is importing more oil and natural gas in order to make the biofuels.

The authors conclude that "Growing crops for biofuels not only ignores the need to reduce natural resource consumption, but exacerbates the problem of malnourishment worldwide by turning food grain into biofuelsŠIncreased use of biofuels further damages the global environment and especially the world food system."


Journal reference:

1. Pimentel D et al. Food versus biofuels: environmental and economic costs. Human Ecology, DOI: 10.1007/s10745-009-9215-8


For Immediate Release January 15, 2009

"Next Generation Biofuels": Bursting The New "Green" Bubble
Letter challenges unrealistic promises from an unsustainable industry

United States--A diverse alliance of organizations published an open letter [1] today in the U.S. and internationally warning of the dangers of industrially produced biofuels (called agrofuels by critics). The letter explains why large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plants such as corn, sugar cane, oilseeds, trees, grasses, or so-called agricultural and woodland waste threatens forests, biodiversity, food sovereignty, community-based land rights and will worsen climate change. With the new Obama Administration slated to take office Tuesday, the letter's originators warn that if Obama's "New Green Economy" runs on agrofuels it may trap the U.S. in a dangerous "Green Bubble" of unrealistic promises from an unsustainable industry.

Indications that the incoming Obama Administration may be ideologically wedded to continuing the agrofuel disaster are clear. President Obama's "New Green Deal" includes support for notoriously destructive agrofuel corporations, the creation of a pro-agribusiness cabinet that includes Tom Vilsack, Ken Salazar and Steven Chu, promotion of cellulosic fuel technologies, and references to increasing the Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel target. Additionally, Obama, a former Senator from a corn-growing state, has indicated that the already troubled U.S. ethanol industry will receive a financial boost soon, despite mounting evidence that the industry simply cannot meet the demand for fuel in any just or sustainable way.

"This no longer about corn ethanol-turning any plants into fuel is simply not renewable," stated Dr. Rachel Smolker, co-author of the letter and Global Justice Ecology Project agrofuels specialist. "All plants, edible or not, require soils, water, fertilizers and land, all of which are in shortening supply. Yet these unsustainable technologies are commanding the vast majority of renewable energy tax incentives, at the expense of genuine cleaner energy solutions like conservation, efficiency, wind, solar, and ocean power. Additionally, because agrofuel crops rely on fertilizers, 44% of which are imported, they cannot even satisfy the calls for U.S. energy independence."

Corn and sugar based agrofuels have already come under extreme scrutiny due to their documented contribution to the food crisis, with venture capital investment in these so-called 'first generation biofuels' dropping to zero. The open letter exposes the further problems that will result from the so-called 'second generation' of agrofuels. These problems range from wholesale destruction of the world's rainforests and other sensitive forests, to the forced displacement of entire communities to make way for agrofuel expansion, and the biosafety risks of gambling on novel technologies like Synthetic Biology and genetically engineered trees. The letter also makes clear that agrofuels made from inedible plant feedstocks (cellulosic fuels) will continue to exacerbate the food crisis by monopolizing additional agricultural lands for the growing of agrofuel crops such as grasses and trees, instead of food crops.

The groups originating the letter have called on others to join them in preventing another ill-conceived push into agrofuels similar to that which last year raised food prices and hunger levels to crisis proportions. "The last administration's enthusiastic foray into biofuels exacerbated global environmental destruction, land theft and hunger in just a very short space of time," explains Kathy Jo Wetter of the ETC Group. "Redoubling that biofuels push is a continuation of disastrous policies rather than the change we need."

The groups originating the letter include some of the same U.S. groups that issued a prescient call in early 2007 for an immediate moratorium on further U.S. incentives for agrofuel development: Global Justice Ecology Project, Rainforest Action Network, Food First, Family Farm Defenders, and Grassroots International. Additional groups making this call include: ETC Group, Institute for Social Ecology, Heartwood, Dogwood Alliance, Energy Justice Network, and Native Forest Council.

CONTACTS:
o Dr. Rachel Smolker, Agrofuels Specialist, Global Justice Ecology Project,
Email to: rsmolker@globaljusticeecology.org, Office: +1 802 482 2689, Mobile: +1 802 735 7794
o Dr. John Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders,
jepeck@wisc.edu +1 608 260 0900
o Kathy Jo Wetter, ETC Group, kjo@etcgroup.org, tel: +1 919 688 7302

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1 Comentarios:

Blogger BeyondGreen dijo...

There could be no better investment in America than to invest in America becoming energy independent! We need to utilize everything in out power to reduce our dependence on foreign oil including using our own natural resources. Create cheap clean energy, new badly needed green jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The high cost of fuel this past year seriously damaged our economy and society. The cost of fuel effects every facet of consumer goods from production to shipping costs. After a brief reprieve gas is inching back up. OPEC will continue to cut production until they achieve their desired 80-100. per barrel. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and SUV's instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota. There is a really good new book out by Jeff Wilson called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence Now. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

6:46 p.m.  

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