Biofuels – just bad or really bad?

Biofuels in the abstract always sound good. In practice, they usually come with an environmental cost. A Chemist in Langley: On renewables and the need for compromise Part IV: biofuels – just bad or really bad?. (Hat tip to Small Dead Animals.)

in Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable-energy demand and in Germany, wood makes up 38% of non-fossil fuel power consumption.So where is this wood coming from? As described in the web posting at FSC-Watch in the southern US, NGOs have shown that the biggest US pellet producer, Enviva, is sourcing a high proportion of wood from the clear cutting of bottomland hardwood forests – some of the most biodiverse temperate forests and freshwater ecosystems worldwide.

And then there are tropical forests….

Brazil is clear-cutting almost a million acres of tropical forest per year to produce biofuel and shipping much of the fuel all the way to Europe. The net effect is about 50% more carbon emitted by using these biofuels than using petroleum fuels. As for the argument that the ethanol helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a recent article in Science disputes that point. The article points out that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings in greenhouse gases, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years (so it will be carbon neutral in 167 years or so). The same article indicates that biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%.

We can certainly do much to reduce pollution. But in the rush to “Do something!” people often do the wrong thing.  Covering Indonesia in palm-oil lagoons is not environmentally sound. That doesn’t even count the fact that we are putting enough food in our fuel tanks to feed 500 million people. (corn-based ethanol.)

Oh, and nuclear is bad. (No carbon at all. puts me in mind of a Steely Dan song… )

For those of you who really hate nuclear… the Japanese have figured out that they can’t get by without it, and are restarting reactors. Improved reactors. And worldwide, 70 reactors are under construction. With a few more in the planning stages. And the new micro reactors – probably deployed first in places like Japan – are interesting. The Toshiba 4S (NOT a new phone!) was proposed for a site in Alaska, but was not approved.

And for more on your (daily) exposure to radiation see the banana equivalent dose