Issues relating to biofuels

Issues relating to biofuels

There are a number of issues relating to biofuels.

Biofuels are proposed as having such benefits as: reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of fossil fuel use, increased national energy security, increased rural development and a sustainable fuel supply for the future.

However, biofuel production is questioned from a number of angles. The chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, notably observed in March 2008 that questions arise on the emissions implications of that route, and that biofuel production has clearly raised prices of corn, with an overall implication for food security. [ [ Reuters AlertNet - U.N.'s Pachauri urges caution in biofuel use ] ] [ [ Who caused the world food crisis? ] ]

Biofuels are also seen as having limitations. The feedstocks for biofuel production must be replaced rapidly and biofuel production processes must be designed and implemented so as to supply the maximum amount of fuel at the cheapest cost, while providing maximum environmental benefits. Broadly speaking, first generation biofuel production processes cannot supply us with more than a few percent of our energy requirements sustainably. The reasons for this are described below. Second generation processes can supply us with more biofuel, with better environmental gains. The major barrier to the development of second generation biofuel processes is their capital cost: establishing second generation biodiesel plants has been estimated at €500million. [ [ Nexant Chem Systems study] ]

Recently, an inflexion point about advantages/disadvantages of biofuels seems to be gaining momentum. The March 27, 2008 TIME magazine cover features the subject under the title "The Clean Energy Myth":

Politicians and Big Business are pushing biofuels like corn-based ethanol as alternatives to oil. All they’re really doing is driving up world food prices, helping to destroy the Amazon jungle, and making global warming worse. [Grunwald, Michael: ‘’The Clean Energy Scam’’ TIME Magazine. Mar. 27, 2008. [,9171,1725975,00.html] ]

In the June, 2008 issue of the journal Conservation Biology, scientists argue that because such large amounts of energy are required to grow corn and convert it to ethanol, the net energy gain of the resulting fuel is modest. Using a crop such as switchgrass, common forage for cattle, would require much less energy to produce the fuel, and using algae would require even less. Changing direction to biofuels based on switchgrass or algae would require significant policy changes, since the technologies to produce such fuels are not fully developed. [ [ Newswise: Some Biofuels Might Do More Harm than Good to the Environment] Retrieved on June 5, 2008.]


Oil price moderation

The International Energy Agency's "World Energy Outlook 2006" concludes that rising oil demand, if left unchecked,would accentuate the consuming countries' vulnerability to a severe supply disruption and resulting price shock. The report suggested that biofuels may one day offer a viable alternative, but also that "the implications of the use of biofuels for global security as well as for economic, environmental, and public health need to be further evaluated". [ Contribution of Renewables to Energy Security] ]

Economists disagree on the extent that biofuel production affects crude oil prices. According to the Francisco Blanch, a commodity strategist for Merrill Lynch, crude oil would be trading 15 per cent higher and gasoline would be as much as 25 per cent more expensive, if it were not for biofuels. [ [ As Biofuels Catch On, Next Task Is to Deal With Environmental, Economic Impact] ] Gordon Quaiattini, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, argued that a healthy supply of alternative energy sources will help to combat gasoline price spikes. [ Biofuels are part of the solution] ] However, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas concluded that "Biofuels are too limited in scale and currently too costly to make much difference to crude oil pricing." [ [ Crude Awakening: Behind the Surge in Oil Prices] ]

Rising food prices — the "food vs. fuel" debate

This topic is internationally controversial. There are those, such as the National Corn Growers Association, who say biofuel is not the main cause.Some say the problem is a result of government actions to support biofuels. Others say it is just due to oil price increases. The impact of food price increases is greatest on poorer countries. [cite web
title= "NGO has biofuel concerns"
date= 2007-11-01 |work= |publisher= "BBC News"
pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=
accessdate= 2008-01-20
] Some have called for a freeze on biofuels. Some have called for more funding of second generation biofuels which should not compete with food production so much."Green Dreams" J.K. Bourne JR, R. Clark, "National Geographic Magazine", October 2007 p. 41, [ Article] ] [ cite web |url= | title= The Economist – The End Of Cheap Food] In May 2008 Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations food adviser, called for a halt on biofuel investment. In an interview in "Le Monde" he stated: "The ambitious goals for biofuel production set by the United States and the European Union are irresponsible. I am calling for a freeze on all investment in this sector." 100 million people are currently at risk due to the food price increases. [ [ BBC News UN urges biofuel investment halt] 2 May 2008]

Carbon emissions

Biofuels and other forms of renewable energy aim to be carbon neutral or even carbon negative. Carbon neutral means that the carbon released during the use of the fuel, e.g. through burning to power transport or generate electricity, is reabsorbed and balanced by the carbon absorbed by new plant growth. These plants are then harvested to make the next batch of fuel. Carbon neutral fuels lead to no net increases in human contributions to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, reducing the human contributions to global warming. A carbon negative aim is achieved when a portion of the biomass is used for carbon sequestration. [] “Carbon negative energy to reverse global warming” (a posting to Energy Resources Group on Yahoo). Report on the symposium (EACU) in 2004 at the University of Georgia at Athens (Georgia, USA). Several scientists from very diverse disciplins: chemistry, archeology, physics, anthropology, microbiology, pedology, agronomy, researchers in renewable energies, and representatives for the DOE (Department of Environment), USDA and industry. Aim: to observe the evidences of massive utilisations of carbon in history, make a synopsis on present research, and study how carbon-negative energy can be economically deployed today” (See also [] )] Calculating exactly how much greenhouse gas (GHG) is produced in burning biofuels is a complex and inexact process, which depends very much on the method by which the fuel is produced and other assumptions made in the calculation.

Carbon emissions have been increasing ever since the industrial revolution. Prior to the industrial revolution, our atmosphere contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. After burning coal, gas, and oil to power our lives, the concentration had risen to 315 parts per million. Today, it is at the 380 level and still increasing by approximately two parts per million annually. During this time frame, the global average temperature has risen by more than 1°F since carbon dioxide traps heat near the Earth’s surface. Scientists believe that if the level goes beyond 450 parts per million, the temperature jump will be so great that we will be faced with an enormous rise in sea level due to the melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. The carbon emissions (Carbon footprint) produced by biofuels are calculated using a technique called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). This uses a "cradle to grave" or "well to wheels" approach to calculate the total amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted during biofuel production, from putting seed in the ground to using the fuel in cars and trucks. Many different LCAs have been done for different biofuels, with widely differing results. The majority of LCA studies show that biofuels provide significant greenhouse gas emissions savings when compared to fossil fuels such as petroleum and diesel.Fact|date=January 2008 Therefore, using biofuels to replace a proportion of the fossil fuels that are burned for transportation can reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. The well-to-wheel analysis for biofuels has shown that first generation biofuels can save up to 60% carbon emission and second generation biofuels can save up to 80% as opposed to using fossil fuels. [ [ Concawe European WTW study] ] However these studies do not take into account emissions from nitrogen fixation, deforestation, land use, or any indirect emissions.

In October 2007, a study was published by scientists from Britain, U.S., Germany and Austria, including Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on ozone. They reported that the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and corn (maize) can contribute as much or more to global warming by nitrous oxide emissions than cooling by fossil fuel savings. Nitrous oxide is both 296 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and a destroyer of atmospheric ozone. But they also reported that crops with lower requirements for nitrogen fertilizers, such as grasses and woody coppicing will result in a net absorption of greenhouse gases. [ cite web |url= |title= N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels ] [cite paper
author = Smith, Lewis (The Times)
title = Study: Biofuels May Produce More Greenhouse Gas Than Oil
date = 2007, Sept.
url =,2933,297681,00.html
format = HTML
accessdate = 2007-09-24

In February 2008, two articles were published in Science which investigated the GHG emissions effects of the large amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development. [ cite web |url= |title=Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat] The first of these studies, conducted at the University of Minnesota,"Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt" Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, Peter Hawthorne Published Online February 7, 2008 Science DOI|10.1126/science.1152747] found that:

...converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions these biofuels provide by displacing fossil fuels.

This study not only takes into account removal of the original vegetation (as timber or by burning) but also the biomass present in the soil, for example roots, which is released on continued plowing. It also pointed out that:

...biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages.

The second study, conducted at Princeton University, ["Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change" Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, Tun-Hsiang Yu Published Online February 7, 2008 "Science" DOI|10.1126/science.1151861] used a worldwide agricultural model to show that:

...corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years.

Both of the Science studies highlight the need for sustainable biofuels, using feedstocks that minimize competition for prime croplands. These include farm, forest and municipal waste streams; energy crops grown on marginal lands, and algaes. These second generation biofuels feedstocks "are expected to dramatically reduce GHGs compared to first generation biofuels such as corn ethanol". In short, biofuels done unsustainably could make the climate problem worse, while biofuels done sustainably could play a leading role in solving the carbon challenge. [ [ Growing Sustainable Biofuels: Common Sense on Biofuels, part 2] ]

ustainable biofuel production

Responsible policies and economic instruments would help to ensure that biofuel commercialization, including the development of new cellulosic technologies, is sustainable. Sustainable biofuel production practices would not hamper food and fibre production, nor cause water or environmental problems, and would actually enhance soil fertitlity. [ [ Winning the Oil Endgame] p. 107.] Responsible commercialization of biofuels represents an opportunity to enhance sustainable economic prospects in Africa, Latin America and impoverished Asia.

oil erosion, deforestation, and biodiversity

It is important to note that carbon compounds in waste biomass that is left on the ground are consumed by other microorganisms. They break down biomass in the soil to produce valuable nutrients that are necessary for future crops. On a larger scale, plant biomass waste provides small wildlife habitat, which in turn ripples up through the food chain. The widespread human use of biomass (which would normally compost the field) would threaten these organisms and natural habitats. When cellulosic ethanol is produced from feedstock like switchgrass and saw grass, the nutrients that were required to grow the lignocellulose are removed and cannot be processed by microorganisms to replenish the soil nutrients. The soil is then of poorer quality. Loss of ground cover root structures accelerates unsustainable soil erosion. [cite web
title= National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory
author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors=
date= 03/05/2008 |work= |publisher= U.S. Department of Agriculture
accessdate= 2008-03-07

Significant areas of native Amazon rainforest have been cleared by slash and burn techniques to make room for sugar cane production,Fact|date=May 2008 which is used in large part for ethanol fuel in Brazil, and growing ethanol exports. Large-scale deforestation of mature trees (which help remove CO2 through photosynthesis — much better than does sugar cane or most other biofuel feedstock crops do) contributes to un-sustainable global warming atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, loss of habitat, and a reduction of valuable biodiversity. [Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, "Extinction", Random House, New York (1981) ISBN 0-394-51312-6] Demand for biofuel has led to clearing land for Palm Oil plantations. [cite web |url= | title= Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare - New York Times]

A portion of the biomass should be retained onsite to support the soil resource. Normally this will be in the form of raw biomass, but processed biomass is also an option. If the exported biomass is used to produce syngas, the process can be used to co-produce biochar, a low-temperature charcoal used as a soil amendment to increase soil organic matter to a degree not practical with less recalcitrant forms of organic carbon. For co-production of biochar to be widely adopted, the soil amendment and carbon sequestration value of co-produced charcoal must exceed its net value as a source of energy. [ [,3,14;journal,5,231;linkingpublicationresults,1:102022,1] “Prehistorically modified soils of central Amazonia: a model for sustainable agriculture in the twenty-first century”, by Bruno Glaser at the Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography, University of Bayreuth (see the [ “Terra Preta Web Site”] ). Extract available [ here] . Published online December 20, 2006 in Philosophic Transactions Royal Society B (2007) 362, 187–196. doi:10.1098/rstb.2006. 1978. This article studies the evidences concerning the process of generation of Terra preta as well as the reasons why its organic matter's and nutrients' retention is so superior to the surrounding soils.]

Impact on water resources

Increased use of biofuels puts increasing pressure on water resources in at least two ways: water use for the irrigation of crops used as feedstocks for biodiesel production; and water use in the production of biofuels in refineries, mostly for boiling and cooling.

In many parts of the world supplemental or full irrigation is needed to grow feedstocks. For example, if in the production of corn (maize) half the water needs of crops are met through irrigation and the other half through rainfall, about 860 liters of water are needed to produce one liter of ethanol. [ To calculate this relationship, one has to take into account that irrigated corn needs about 560 cubic meters (2.1m gallons) of water per ton of corn (as quoted in [ Eco-World. Ed Ring:Is bio-fuel water positive? June 4th, 2007] using estimates from the University of Colorado and UNESCO, as well as a clarification by David Nielsen, Research Agronomist, USDA-ARS, Akron, Colorado, posted on July 19, 2007.) A good ethanol yield is about 480 gallons per acre per year, and a typical corn yield is 5.6 tons per acre per year. Assuming that half the crop water needs can be met through rainfall, this would mean that still 1,570 cubic meter (1.57m liter) - 280 cubic meter of water per ton, multiplied by 5.6 tons per acre - of irrigation water are needed per acre per year to produce 1,817 liter (480 gallons) of ethanol.] However, in the United States only 5-15% of the water required for corn comes from irrigation while the other 85-95% comes from natural rainfall.

In the United States, the number of ethanol factories has almost tripled from 50 in 2000 to about 140 in 2008. A further 60 or so are under construction, and many more are planned. Projects are being challenged by residents at courts in Missouri (where water is drawn from the Ozark Aquifer), Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas (all of which draw water from the non-renewable Ogallala Aquifer), central Illinois (where water is drawn from the Mahomet Aquifer) and Minnesota. [ The Economist, March 1st 2008, Ethanol and water: don't mix, p. 36 ]


Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde and other Aldehydes are produced when alcohols are oxidized. When only a 10% mixture of ethanol is added to gasoline (as is common in American E10 gasohol and elsewhere), aldehyde emissions increase 40%. Fact|date=June 2008 Some study results are conflicting on this fact however, and lowering the sulfur content of biofuel mixes lowers the acetaldehyde levels. [ [ Issues Associated with the Use of Higher Ethanol Blends (E17-E24) ] ] Burning biodiesel also emits aldehydes and other potentially hazardous aromatic compounds which are not regulated in emissions laws. []

Many aldehydes are toxic to living cells. Formaldehyde irreversibly cross-links protein amino acids, which produces the hard flesh of embalmed bodies. At high concentrations in an enclosed space, formaldehyde can be a significant respiratory irritant causing nose bleeds, respiratory distress, lung disease, and persistent headaches. [ [ CDC tests confirm FEMA units are toxic - Life - ] ] Acetaldehyde, which is produced in the body by alcohol drinkers and found in the mouths of smokers and those with poor oral hygene, is carcinogenic and mutagenic. [ [ Symposium Alcohol and Health: an Update, June 15th 2005, Abstract of H. K. Seitz, Departement of Medicine, Salem Medical Center, Heidelberg, Germany ] ]

The European Union has banned products that contain Formaldehyde, due to its documented carcinogenic characteristics. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled Formaldehyde as a probable cause of cancer in humans.

Brazil burns significant amounts of ethanol biofuel. Gas chromatograph studies were performed of ambient air in São Paulo Brazil, and compared to Osaka Japan, which does not burn ethanol fuel. Atmospheric Formaldehyde was 160% higher in Brazil, and Acetaldehyde was 260% higher. [ [ PII: S1352-2310(01)00136-4 ] ]

Impact on society and water for Palm Oil

In some locations such as Indonesia deforestation for Palm Oil plantations is leading to displacement of Indigenous peoples. Also, extensive use of pesticide for biofuel crops is reducing clean water supplies. [ Biofuel demand leading to human rights abuses, report claims] Jessica Aldred, "", February 11 2008 Retrieved February 11 2008]

Environmental organizations stance

Some mainstream environmental groups support biofuels as a significant step toward slowing or stopping global climate change.Fact|date=September 2007 However, biofuel production can threaten the environment if it is not done sustainably. This finding has been backed by reports of the UN, [cite web |url= |title= U.N. raises possible negative impact of biofuels on environment, food security] the IPCC, [ [ IPCC's Mitigation of Climate Change report negative on biofuels] .] and some other smaller environmental and social groups as the EEB [ [ Biofuels no panacea] (PDF). ] and the Bank Sarasin, [ [ Biofuels — Transporting Us to a Fossil-Free Future?] .] which generally remain negative about biofuels.

As a result, governmental [ [ Governmental (OECD) organisations against unsustainable biofuels] .] and environmental organisations are turning against biofuels made at a non-sustainable way (hereby preferring certain oil sources as jatropha and lignocellulose over palm oil) [ [,,2111985,00.html Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, ... preferring jatropha over palm oil] .] and are asking for global support for this. [ [ Environmental organisations against non-sustainable biofuels 1] .] [ [ Environmental organisations against non-sustainable biofuels 2] .] Also, besides supporting these more sustainable biofuels, environmental organisations are redirecting to new technologies that do not use internal combustion engines such as hydrogen and compressed air. [ [ Zero Carbon Environmental Organisation] .]

The "Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels" is an international initiative which brings together farmers, companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and scientists who are interested in the sustainability of biofuels production and distribution. During 2008, the Roundtable is developing a series of principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production through meetings, teleconferences, and online discussions. [ [ The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels: Ensuring Biofuels Deliver on their Promise of Sustainability] ]

The increased manufacture of biofuels will require increasing land areas to be used for agriculture. Second and third generation biofuel processes can ease the pressure on land, because they can use waste biomass, and existing (untapped) sources of biomass such as crop residues and potentially even marine algae.

In some regions of the world, a combination of increasing demand for food, and increasing demand for biofuel, is causing deforestation and threats to biodiversity. The best reported example of this is the expansion of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, where rainforest is being destroyed to establish new oil palm plantations. It is an important fact that 90% of the palm oil produced in Malaysia is used by the food industry; [ [ Malaysian Palm Oil Council] .] therefore biofuels cannot be held solely responsible for this deforestation. There is a pressing need for sustainable palm oil production for the food and fuel industries; palm oil is used in a wide variety of food products. The "Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels" is working to define criteria, standards and processes to promote sustainably produced biofuels. [ [ Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels website] .] Palm oil is also used in the manufacture of detergents, and in electricity and heat generation both in Asia and around the world (the UK burns palm oil in coal-fired power stations to generate electricity).

Significant area is likely to be dedicated to sugar cane in future years as demand for ethanol increases worldwide. The expansion of sugar cane plantations will place pressure on environmentally-sensitive native ecosystems including rainforest in South America. [ [ "BBC News"] .] In forest ecosystems, these effects themselves will undermine the climate benefits of alternative fuels, in addition to representing a major threat to global biodiversity. [ [ Agrofuels — towards a reality check in nine key areas] .]

Although biofuels are generally considered to improve net carbon output, biodiesel and other fuels do produce local air pollution, including nitrogen oxides, the principal cause of smog.Fact|date=May 2007

Potential for poverty reduction

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute have argued that biofuels could help to reduce poverty in the developing world, through increased employment, wider economic growth multipliers and energy price effects. However, this potential is described as 'fragile', and is reduced where feedstock production tends to be large scale, or causes pressure on limited agricultural resources: capital investment, land, water, and the net cost of food for the poor.

With regards to the potential for poverty reduction or exacerbation, biofuels rely on many of the same policy, regulatory or investment shortcomings that impede agriculture as a route to poverty reduction. Since many of these shortcomings require policy improvements at a country level rather than a global one, they argue for a country-by-country analysis of the potential poverty impacts of biofuels. This would consider, among other things, land administration systems, market coordination and prioritising investment in biodiesel, as this 'generates more labour, has lower transportation costs and uses simpler technology'.cite web |url= |title= Biofuels, Agriculture and Poverty Reduction |accessyear= 2007 |year= 2007 |publisher= Overseas Development Institute |format=PDF]

Biofuel prices

Retail, at the pump prices, including U.S. subsidies, Federal and state motor taxes, B2/B5 prices for low-level Biodiesel (B2-B5) are lower than petroleum diesel by about 12 cents, and B20 blends are the same per unit of volume as petrodiesel. [cite web
title= "Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report"
author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors=
month= July | year= 2007 | format= PDF |work=
publisher= U.S. Dept. of Energy
pages= |language= |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote=
accessdate= 2008-01-15

Due to the 1/3 lower energy content of ethanol fuel, even the heavily-subsidized net cost to drive a specific distance in flexible-fuel vehicles is higher than current gasoline prices.

A biofuel was released in New Zealand in August 2008 at "less than NZ$2 a litre"cite web | url= |title=New blend of biofuel to sell for less than $2/L ] by Gull, who said they would try to keep the price two cents under the price of their standard 91 octane petrol".cite web |url= |title= Biofuel goes mainstream in Aklnd ]

On April 25, a special biofuel filling station started to work in Chernivtsi, the first in Ukraine and in East European countries. The biofuel price is 50 kopecks less (UAH 5.50/l) against analogues of petroleum products [] .

Energy efficiency and energy balance of biofuels

Production of biofuels from raw materials requires energy (for farming, transport and conversion to final product, and the production / application of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides), and has environmental consequences. [ [ Cellulosic ethanol will not save us] ]

The energy balance of a biofuel (sometimes called "Net energy gain") is determined by the amount of energy put into the manufacture of fuel compared to the amount of energy released when it is burned in a vehicle. This varies by feedstock and according to the assumptions used. Biodiesel made from sunflowers may produce only 0.46 times the input rate of fuel energy. [Cite journal| last = Pimentel | first = D. | coauthors = T.W. Patzek | title = Ethanol Production Using Corn, Switchgrass, and Wood; Biodiesel Production Using Soybean and Sunflower | journal = Natural Resources Research | volume = 14 | issue = 1 | pages = 65–75 | year = 2005 | doi = 10.1007/s11053-005-4679-8 | url = | accessdate = 2008-01-25] Biodiesel made from soybeans may produce 3.2 times the input rate of fossil fuels. [cite book | title = Life Cycle Inventory of Biodiesel and Petroleum Diesel
author = John Sheehan | coauthors = Vince Camobreco, J. Duffield, M. Graboski, H. Shapouri | year = 1998
month = May | publisher = National Renewable Energy Laboratory | place = Golden, Colorado 80401-3393
url = | format = PDF
id = NREL/SR-580-24089 | accessdate = 2008-01-24
(see page 33)
] This compares to 0.805 for gasoline and 0.843 for diesel made from petroleum. [citation | title = The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update | url = | last = Shapouri |year = 2002 | publisher = USDA | id = Agricultural Economic Report No. 813 | accessdate = 2008-01-25(see page 8)] Biofuels may require higher energy input per unit of BTU energy content produced than fossil fuels: petroleum can be pumped out of the ground and processed more efficiently than biofuels can be grown and processed. However, this is not necessarily a reason to use oil instead of biofuels, nor does it have an impact on the environmental benefits provided by a given biofuel.

Studies have been done that calculate energy balances for biofuel production. Some of these show large differences depending on the biomass feedstock used and location. [ [ "Biofuel" does not necessarily mean ecologically friendly] (EMPA report May 2007).]

To explain one specific example, a June 17, 2006 editorial in the Wall. St. Journal stated, "The most widely cited research on this subject comes from Cornell's David Pimental and Berkeley's Ted Patzek. They've found that it takes more than a gallon of fossil fuel to make one gallon of ethanol — 29% more. That's because it takes enormous amounts of fossil-fuel energy to grow corn (using fertilizer and irrigation), to transport the crops and then to turn that corn into ethanol." [ [ An Energy Field of Dreams] The Wall St. Journal, June 17, 2006]

Life cycle assessments of biofuel production show that under certain circumstances, biofuels produce only limited savings in energy and greenhouse gas emissions. Fertiliser inputs and transportation of biomass across large distances can reduce the GHG savings achieved. The location of biofuel processing plants can be planned to minimize the need for transport, and agricultural regimes can be developed to limit the amount of fertiliser used for biomass production. A European study on the greenhouse gas emissions found that well-to-wheel (WTW) CO2 emissions of biodiesel from seed crops such as rapeseed could be almost as high as fossil diesel. It showed a similar result for bio-ethanol from starch crops, which could have almost as many WTW CO2 emissions as fossil petrol. This study showed that second generation biofuels have far lower WTW CO2 emissions. [ [ European VIEWLS Biofuel report p.28 fig.4] (PDF).]

Other independent LCA studies show that biofuels save around 50% of the CO2 emissions of the equivalent fossil fuels. This can be increased to 80-90% GHG emissions savings if second generation processes or reduced fertiliser growing regimes are used. Further GHG savings can be achieved by using by-products to provide heat, such as using bagasse to power ethanol production from sugarcane. [ [ Concawe Well to Wheels LCA for biofuels] .]

Collocation of synergistic processing plants can enhance efficiency. One example is to use the exhaust heat from an industrial process for ethanol production, which can then recycle cooler processing water, instead of evaporating hot water that warms the atmosphere. [cite web
title= "FPL Energy finds partner for citrus-peel-to-ethanol plant"
month= October | year= 2007 |publisher= "Biomass Magazine"
accessdate= 2008-03-07

Biofuels and solar energy efficiency

Biofuels from plant materials convert energy that was originally captured from solar energy via photosynthesis. A comparison of conversion efficiency from solar to usable energy (taking into account the whole energy budgets) shows that photovoltaics are 100 times more efficient than corn ethanol [ [ Markman, Jon, "Shuck the ethanol and let solar shine" 10/11/2007] ] and 10 times more efficient than the best biofuel. [ [ "Biofuel vs. Photovoltaics" EcoWorld] ]

Centralised vs. decentralised production

There is debate around the best model for production.

One side sees centralised vegetable oil fuel production offering

* efficiency
* greater potential for fuel standardisation
* ease of administrating taxes
* possibility for rapid expansion

The other side of the argument points to

* increased fuel security
* rural job creation
* less of a 'monopolistic' or 'oligopolistic' market due to the increased number of producers
* benefits to local economy as a greater part of any profits stay in the local economy
* decreased transportation and greenhouse gases of feedstock and end product
* consumers close to and able to observe the effects of production

The majority of established biofuel markets have followed the centralised model with a few small or micro producers holding a minor segment of the market. A noticeable exception to this has been the pure plant oil (PPO) market in Germany which grew exponentially until the beginning of 2008 when increasing feedstock prices and the introduction of fuel duty combined to stifle the market. Fuel was produced in hundreds of small oil mills distributed throughout Germany often run as part of farm businesses.

Initially fuel quality could be variable but as the market matured new technologies were developed that made significantly improvements. As the technologies surrounding this fuel improved usage and production rapidly increased with rapeseed oil PPO forming a significant segment of transportation biofuels consumed in 2007.

ee also

*List of environmental issues


Further reading

* Dargin, Justin, "Biofuel Development: Creation and Controversy" May 2008 [http:// Nuova energi]

External links

* [ Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels] - "The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels Announces Version Zero of our Sustainability Standard"
* [,,contentMDK:21501336~pagePK:64167689~piPK:64167673~theSitePK:2795143,00.html World Bank, "Biofuels: The Promise and the Risks". World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development]

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  • United States — a republic in the N Western Hemisphere comprising 48 conterminous states, the District of Columbia, and Alaska in North America, and Hawaii in the N Pacific. 267,954,767; conterminous United States, 3,022,387 sq. mi. (7,827,982 sq. km); with… …   Universalium

  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars — The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (or Wilson Center) (located in Washington, D.C.) is a United States Presidential Memorial that was established as part of the Smithsonian Institution by an act of Congress in 1968. Named in… …   Wikipedia