Most biofuels better than oil for greenhouse gases, worse or similar eco-impact otherwise, study finds

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It once again took a study to find out the obvious, it would seem. However, a new study from Switzerland's Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) that although many biofuels do result in lower greenhouse gas emissions than either gasoline or diesel fuel as mixed in Switzerland (palm oil in Malaysia being a notable exception, as many studies have documented), and they all result in significantly lower ozone depletion, on every other factor looked at in the study biofuels are at best no better than petroleum and in many cases having greater than 167% worse environmental impact on multiple serious criteria such as creation of ocean dead zones, water pollution, land use change, and resource depletion.

Summing up the findings it reads as follows: Biofuels from deforested areas usually emit more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. This also applies to indirect land usage changes if existing agricultural land is used for the first time for biofuel production and, as a consequence, forested areas have to be cleared in order to maintain the existing foodstuff or animal feed production.

On the other hand, positive effects can be achieved if energy plant cultivation increases the carbon content of the soil, for example via the cultivation of oil palms on unused grazing land in Columbia or via jatropha plantations in India and eastern Africa, making deserted land arable again.

Despite this, you can't speak in general terms of Jatropha as being a 'wonder plant', as its ecobalance is very much dependent on the agricultural practices at the site in question and the land's previous use. Each (new) biofuel must therefore be examined separately and in detail.

In addition to that it was found by simple emissions testing in the UK a year or so ago that the particle emissions of bio-diesel vehicles are a multiple higher than those of ordinary diesel. This means that bio-diesel, per se, is more harmful to human health, as those particles, often in nano-particle size, are sen as the casual agent of asthma of children in towns and cities.

Aside from that fact growing of crops for fuel removes land that can and should be used for the growing of food. You can't eat bio-diesel or bio-ethanol but you can eat corn.

We do not need a new combustion engine fuel. We need to end our dependence of the internal combustion engine and the vehicles run by it and, if that means that we have to go back to using animal power, bicycles and human power then so be it.

© 2012