Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Great Biofuel Hoax of 2008 - Energy Policy and Climate Change By Randy Bisenz

Biofuels. What a great name! It just sounds green. Looking around I see a proliferation of Biodiesel bumper stickers everywhere I look. In my home state of Oregon all filling stations will be required to add at least 10 % ethanol to all gasoline by next year. Environmentalists are cheering as politicians and the media are jumping onto the Biofuel bandwagon. Sounds like a big win for the environment and society - think again, in reality Biofuels are much more brown than they are green.
Here are five reasons why Biofuels may actually be harmful for the environment:
  • 1. Biofuels are so profitable that rain forest, the most efficient absorber of greenhouse gases, is being cut or burned to grow grains and sugarcane to make ethanol or Biodiesel.
  • 2. Farmers growing highly profitable Biofuel crops are looking for the fastest growth and biggest yields and use heavy amounts of chemical fertilizer; which strips key micronutrients out of our increasingly scarce topsoil, and the nitrogen-rich runoff causes massive algae growth that destroys our streams, rivers and lakes.
  • 3. Because Biofuels are more profitable than food crops large amounts of prime farmland is being devoted to Biofuel production creating grain shortages and increasing the price of grain products, especially in third world countries.
  • 4. Although Biofuels emit less greenhouse gases per gallon than petroleum fuels they still emit significant amounts. Biofuels are also less fuel-efficient. In my vehicle mileage drops substantially when I use a fuel containing ethanol. So, overall Biofuels do not reduce greenhouse emissions nearly as much as claimed.
  • ?
  • 5. This is perhaps the most important reason. To permanently solve both the energy crisis and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions we will have to move away from consumable fuels to toward energy sources that do not consume fuel, emit heat or produce pollutants. At the moment electricity is the cleanest energy source available and companies are beginning to develop and produce powerful electric cars that can go a few hundred miles on a charge. For these vehicles to be practical we will need to establish charging stations in every town and alongside every highway. This requires a massive transition from filling stations to charging stations. The use of Biofuels will perpetuate the existing infrastructure of filling stations and delay the transition to charging stations. The longer we delay this transition the more greenhouse gases will be released into our atmosphere.
At this point some of you might be wondering why our political leadership and big business is so supportive of Biofuels - yet they never even mention electric vehicles. It might be worth your time to see the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car", which is available on DVD. Click Here to go to their website.
To begin with most big grain producers are large corporate farms with a strong lobbying presence in Washington and a history of making campaign contributions to politicians that support their agendas. Biofuels are big business for these companies.
The auto industry also is heavily involved in politics, lobbying efforts, and campaign contributions. These companies have a big investment in continuing to make internal combustion engines that burn fuels. Moving to electric motors will require major retrofitting for these companies. Biofuels allow them to avoid making this investment.
The petroleum industry has perhaps the most to gain from the implementation of Biofuels. They know that the public will eventually demand a move away from petroleum. All the other solutions will take business away from them. However, they will be refining and distributing Biofuels just like they do with petroleum - and crude Biofuels are cheaper too. So, the petroleum industry stands to make a great deal of money from the distribution of Biofuels.
The petroleum industry makes huge campaign contributions to certain politicians. They have been successful at having many of their supporters and former executives elected and appointed to the highest levels of power in our current administration. It is not surprising that our political leaders are embracing Biofuels.
The solution to both the energy crisis and pollution is to transition to non-consumable fuels. This means solar, geothermal, wind and tidal energy production of electricity. Even nuclear energy could be a viable alternative if spent fuel can be safely transported out of the Earth's atmosphere using the low-cost rocket technologies recently developed. All of these kinds of energy production are already in use and are becoming cheaper and more efficient every day. We have not yet begun to see the economies of scale and innovation that will make this kind of energy production much cheaper the more that it is developed and used.
At this very moment several companies are planning massive solar energy installations in Arizona, which is beginning to be called the Silicon Valley or Middle East of Solar energy production. Huge wind farms are being planned for the Plains states. We could be only years away from a massive transition to electric vehicles. For this to be successful we need to get big business and our political leadership to focus on this transition. This will take a lot longer if we allow them to remain focused on Biofuels instead.
When comparing non-consumable energy sources to fuel based energy production remember that all fuels must be transported to where they are sold. The transportation of fuels burns more fuel - so these transportation costs must be figured into the numbers used for greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. Distribution of electricity does involve some energy loss, but it is fractional compared to how much energy is used to transport fuel and does not emit greenhouse gases.
Some of you might be wondering why I have not mentioned hydrogen fuel cells. There are three reasons why: 1. Hydrogen combustion still produces heat, 2. Our engineers still have not figured out how to produce hydrogen without using large amounts of energy to do it, and 3. The other renewal energy sources mentioned earlier have already moved beyond the experimental stage and are in real-world use.
On the Bright Future website we offer a comprehensive discussion about energy and climate. Check out our radio show: Click Understanding Climate Change on the Listen page. On our panel for this discussion is Greg Jones, a distinguished climate scientist from Southern Oregon University. This discussion reveals some of the complexities of properly addressing Climate Change.
Randy Bisenz is the founder of, a non-partisan article hub and online community focused on solutions to worldwide problems.