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Study: Ethanol Worse for Climate Than Gasoline Answered

Ethanol is under fire again:

At first blush, biofuels such as corn ethanol and soybean diesel seem like they would be great from the standpoint of global warming. The crops soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, and that balances out the carbon dioxide they produce when they're burned. But until now, nobody has fully analyzed all the ripple effects of this industry. And Tim Searchinger, a visiting scholar at Princeton University, says those effects turn out to be huge. "The simplest explanation is that when we divert our corn or soybeans to fuel, if people around the world are going to continue to eat the same amount that they're already eating, you have to replace that food somewhere else," Searchinger says.

Searchinger and his colleagues looked globally to figure out where the new cropland is coming from, as American farmers produce fuel crops where they used to grow food. The answer is that biofuel production here is driving agriculture to expand in other parts of the world.

"That's done in a significant part by burning down forests, plowing up grasslands. That releases a great deal of carbon dioxide," Searchinger says.

In fact, Searchinger's group's study, published online by Science magazine, shows those actions end up releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide. The study finds that over a 30-year span, biofuels end up contributing twice as much carbon dioxide to the air as that amount of gasoline would, when you add in the global effects.

The rest of the article (and radio broadcast) is here

25 Replies

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Dr.Paj (author)2008-02-08

All the more reason to become a farmer who farms foods like tomatoes, will cost more, thus increasing your profit so you can buy your fancy Tesla Roadster and get an acceleration time: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in under 4 seconds. and a top speed which is electronically limited at 125 mph (201 km/h) along with a range of 221 miles. Oh and Skate6566 you seemed to contradict yourself when you said, "All of the farmers are going to grow corn as opposed to corn, tomatoes, etc." just a heads up.

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xACIDITYx (author)Dr.Paj2008-02-08

whoops, i just get a little flared when people talk about ethanol and global warming, and the moon landing.

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user
Dr.Paj (author)xACIDITYx2008-02-08

DON'T get me started on the moon landings..... They are fake!!!! But not really.

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user
xACIDITYx (author)Dr.Paj2008-02-09

i think they are, or rather, were faked. but that's just what i think.

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user
xACIDITYx (author)Dr.Paj2008-02-08

But you see, if the tesla roadster gets big, then there will be less of a need for corn!

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user
Brennn10 (author)2008-02-08

Let's ditch cars and revert back to walking and horse and buggy. Hey, not only is it better for our environment, it is better for our health! Then again, there are the multiple down falls to that reversion.

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user
xACIDITYx (author)Brennn102008-02-08

and the farts which, according to AL Gore, are bad as well. better start saving up your Carbon Credits!

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user
Dr.Paj (author)xACIDITYx2008-02-09

Actually methane is bad for the ozone layer, supposedly. Also because there are so many cows than would survive in the wild, we increased the methane output massively.

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xACIDITYx (author)Dr.Paj2008-02-09

yeah, the farts have methane and, supposedly, are bad.

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Goodhart (author)Dr.Paj2008-02-09

Save the world, eat more cows and lower the surface population ! :-)

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zachninme (author)Brennn102008-02-08

Didn't we go over this before? The process of getting the food from the fields to in our mouths to converting it into energy to walk a few miles is worse than driving!

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Bran (author)Brennn102008-02-08

Yeah, like horse manure.... ;-P

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Kiteman (author)2008-02-08

Biofuels can be fermented from all sorts of organic materials, including waste - fuel crops reduce food crops, but using the waste of the food crops, or the waste of the food animals, or own own sewage are all viable, proven sources of "green" energy.

Biomass doesn't have to be a direct replacement for transport fuel - using it directly for heat, or to generate electricty are also ways of saving fossil fuels.

Our local landfill site already has one system installed to recover methane from the rotting garbage in one section, and that has proven successful enough that they are installing two more sets to harvest the rest of the filled area.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2008-02-08

Still the CO2 situation is not being addressed by those involved. At least, not directly.

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Kiteman (author)Goodhart2008-02-08

Waste biomass will release CO2 and heat as it rots. Using it as fuel doesn't increase the amount released, it just releases it doing something more useful to humans.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2008-02-08
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Kiteman (author)Goodhart2008-02-09

Not significantly, especially compared with fossil fuels, and biomass is as C-neutral as fuels get, especially if the processes & transport involved are also fuelled by biomass.

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Goodhart (author)Kiteman2008-02-09

Ok, I just mean that we are not really making an improvement, but rather shifting the problem from one place to another, and calling it "green". Like renaming industrial waste products as health food (this has happened). Now, if we can refine the processes involved, maybe...

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user
LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-02-08

BIKE YOU LAZY MUDDA-FUKAS

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user
xACIDITYx (author)2008-02-08

They are also worse for the economy. All of the farmers are going to grow corn as opposed to potatoes, tomatoes, etc. That means that the price of all crops besides corn would go up.

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Goodhart (author)xACIDITYx2008-02-08

Corn could go up in price too, if people are using much of it for fuel, food will become a dire commodity of sorts.

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Bran (author)2008-02-08

A lot of people don't care about the CO2 emissions, just the money in their pocket.

I personally think we should convert to human power.

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Bran (author)Bran2008-02-08

Which, by the way, is very improbable.

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Patrik (author)2008-02-08

Just goes to show that you can't just promote/incentivize biofuels, and expect all your problems to go away. We really need to be able to account for the carbon impact of all steps in the process. Otherwise, someone will always be able to come up with counterproductive but lucrative "loopholes", like clear cutting forests to plant bioenergy crops.

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westfw (author)2008-02-07

I dunno. I'm not very enthusiastic about the bio-fuels, but even to me this seems to be stretching an argument way past the point where it makes much sense. I mean, are we really prepare to say "Third world countries shouldn't try to become self-sufficient WRT food production because it would be environmentally more efficient for them to just buy leftovers from the 1st world" ? Production of food has got to be pretty close to the BOTTOM of the list of "energy wasters.) Also, I'd expect 3rd world countries to de-forest for food production regardless of amount of excess crops in the US. After all, food distribution is a big problem that extends well beyond food production. (and did they bother taking into account the greenhouse footprint of shipping food from here to there? (perhaps; bulk transport is actually prett efficient.))

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