Monday, February 11, 2008

Greenhouse Gas Studies Ignore Two Considerations

The biofuel developed for ASU's "Tubes in the Desert" project (artist rendering above) avoids many of the downsides presented by biofuels such as corn, cellulose or other crops/plants. Because it uses a microscopic bacteria as the fuel source, it doesn't compete with food crops and could yield a much larger amount of fuel per acre. Image Credit: From YouTube Video - The Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University

Greenhouse Gas Studies Ignore Two Considerations

On Friday, The New York Times reported on the conclusions of two recently released studies that looked into the CO2 equation of the production and use of ethanol and the potential mandated use of biofuels for America in the future.

The conclusions of these studies basically state that when one measures the potential of the release of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere from biofuel and ethanol one has to take into account the front end … the CO2 production and release caused by the conversion of land and the harvesting of cellulosic matter to feed the biofuel creation process.

While this may be true given a traditional, corn based ethanol/biofuel paradigm, the conclusion focuses only on the reasons for this push to a plant based fuel solution to be Global Warming / Climate Change / Environmental Protection.

The biofuel developed for ASU's "Tubes in the Desert" project uses a microscopic bacteria as the fuel source (the bacteria are grown in transparent tubes, hence the name). ASU researchers are also exploring the possibilities of microbial fuel cells -- tiny microbes that generate energy by feeding on waste. Image Credit: From YouTube Video - The Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University

We, at MAXINE, have to ask – Whatever happened to becoming less dependent on foreign sources of petroleum based fuel so that we do not continue to feed the potentials of increased terrorism from hostile nations?

Furthermore, technology has been developed to deliver a purer way of creating ethanol through a bacteria based production approach. This approach uses less energy and produces far less carbon dioxide than the traditional methods these studies were based upon.

This excerpted from The Seattle Times -

Biofuels make greenhouse gases worse, scientists say

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL - The New York Times - Friday, February 8, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

These studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse-gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted — directly or indirectly, intentionally or not — in new lands being cleared for food or fuel.
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Searchinger's team determined that corn-based ethanol almost doubles greenhouse-gas output over 30 years when the land-use changes to grow corn are considered. Cellulosic ethanol made in the U.S. from switchgrass, a fuel that has been singled out by President Bush as a way to reduce the country's dependence on oil, produces 50 percent more emissions than gasoline does, the study said.

The clearing of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. "So for the next 93 years you're making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions."

ASU's "Tubes in the Desert" Project

Searchinger said the only possible exception he could see for now was sugar cane grown in Brazil, which takes relatively little energy to grow and is readily refined into fuel. He added that governments should focus on developing biofuels that did not require cropping, such as those from agricultural waste products. "This land-use problem is not just a secondary effect — it was often just a footnote in prior papers," Searchinger said. "It is major."

Industry groups, like the Renewable Fuels Association, immediately attacked the new studies as "simplistic."

"Biofuels like ethanol are the only tool readily available that can begin to address the challenges of energy security and environmental protection," said Bob Dineen, the group's director, in a statement issued after the Science reports' release.
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The U.S. recently enacted legislation boosting biofuel production to 36 billion gallons in 2022 from 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. The European Union requires 10 percent of transportation to use biofuels by 2020.
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There should be more focus on producing biofuels from municipal waste and from land that can't be used for food crops, said Alex Ferrell, an energy and resource professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Soil and plants are essential stores of carbon, containing more than the atmosphere, he said.

Ferrell, who wasn't involved in the two studies, said the economic model used in Searchinger's study will have a "profound" impact on the biofuel debate because it questions the rationale of governments who see biofuels as a way to limit global warming.
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