Friday, February 08, 2008

BioFuels Are Under Attack

Two new studies indicate that biofuels production will make global warming worse.

1) A study by Princeton Univesity, Woods Hole Research Center and Iowa State University concluded that use of corn-based ethanol would produce twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline.

2) A study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the University of Minnesota found that converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands in Southeast Asia and Latin America to produce biofuels will increase global warming.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) disagrees with the findings of the reports.

One assumption the Princeton report refuted was that biofuels are better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But the Princeton reports says that the refining and transport process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions.

The TNC report says that clearing land causes more greenhouse gas emissions than tradition fossil fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these fuels are taken into account. The destruction of rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or scrubland that it replaces. The TNC study also shows that the purchase of biofuels in Europe and America will cause more new land in South America to be cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits, so as crops from old fields go for biofuels, even more new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

The recently passed Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) mandated the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels annually by 2022, compared with about 7.5 billion gallons today. To achieve these volumes, EPA annually calculates the percentage-based standard, which applies to refiners, importers and non-oxygenate blenders of gasoline. Based on the standard, each of these parties determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must use. The RFS program creates new markets for farm products, increases energy security, and promotes the development of advanced technologies that would expand the production of renewable fuels.

Now EPA is raising the 2008 renewable fuels standard (RFS), which determines how much non-petroleum fuel will power your vehicle to 7.76 percent. The move is in response to the EISA, which President Bush signed in December. Last November, EPA announced a RFS of 4.66 percent, based on the Energy Security Act of 2005, that mandated at least 5.4 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into the nation's transportation fuels this year. However, EPA is now increasing the standard to 7.76 percent to comply with the new minimum of 9.0 billion gallons of renewable fuel that EISA requires. (More Information) (Wash Post), (NY Times)

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