back to article US scientists puncture the ethanol biofuel bubble

Good science news (or bad, depending on your point of view) has arrived with two reports on the carbon footprint of biofuels, in the paper edition of Science magazine. They deal serious damage to the belief - which up to now has been driving the biofuel bubble - that stepped-up ethanol production in the US is an answer to global …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    ...who pays the piper ...

    ... I expect to hear a lot of "debate" about biofuels in the coming years, but cui bono ?

  2. Kev K
    Paris Hilton


    this has made my day.

    Now quit whinging and pour the R&D funds into solar/wind/wave and shoot anyone who says that a shed load of 400 foot propellers are messing up their nice rual view.

    Fscking hippies - Boris for UK President & Paris as his Mrs cos she would happily shoot a few hipies

  3. James Anderson

    Pretty Obvious

    I always thought it pretty obvious that burning carbon based chemicals produces CO2. Just because the carbon based chemicals are fom plants that died a couple of months ago rather than plants that died a couple of ages ago doesnt make that much difference.

  4. Lawrence Cuthbert
    Paris Hilton

    It's not about emissions

    The USA is attempting to break its dependency on Middle Eastern oil by developing biofuels. It doesn’t give a fig about global warming etc., just as long as it can run its gas-guzzling SUVs at reasonable prices.

  5. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    A little sense...

    This can only be good. Food prices are already suffering huge inflation because of the pressure from biofuel production and as things ramp up it's only going to get worse. The EU has already demanded that some arbitrary percentage of local fuel consumption be met from biofuels - 10%, I think... of course to meet 10% of the UK's fuel consumption from biofuels would require every acre (or hectare if you want to be metric about it) of land currently used for food production in this country, plus every acre of land current assigned as "set-aside". We'd be completely reliant on imports at a time when many countries are dropping all their import tarrifs in order to get enough food in to feed their populations. Biofuels are madness. Any idiot could tell you that using food to produce fuel is beyond stupid.

    And the EU's answer to this problem? Well of course they're going to carefully monitor imported biofuels and place tarrifs and penalties on imports from countries that are exceeding some arbitrary CO2 output limit or chopping down too much forest. Lets not think about scrapping the idea of producing fuel from food just when we're running out of the edible stuff, lets just add yet another layer of taxation and bureaucracy and pretend that will solve all the world's ills. That's the European way!

  6. Simon Greenwood
    Thumb Down

    The US biofuel model is all wrong anyway

    as it's based on industrial production techniques, so rather (or indeed as well as) huge, dirty oil processing facilities run by multinationals, there would be huge, dirty biomass processing facilities run by multinationals. Without advocating anything, biofuel systems seem to be more effective at smaller scales, be it collecting and processing used chip fat or processing ethanol in a back yard still where the overheads of transporting the raw material, processing it, and using it are greatly reduced. The US government is looking for alternatives to oil to reassert fuel independence above any green concerns and have approached in the same way.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    More "solutions" encounter inconvenient truths

    Hear hear.

    Biofuel and "clean coal" are both "solutions" that policymakers tried to rush to implementation without a serious effort to investigate the impact on the problems they supposedly solve. Here in central Illinois farmers and the coal industry have aided and abetted this rush, for obvious reasons.

    Inconveniently, the best solution to the dual problems of CO2-induced global warming and the coming global production decline of oil and other non-renewable FF's is energy efficiency and other conservation measures that bring down per-capita energy use.

    Conservation was rejected by the Bush-Cheney administration when they famously declared that "the American way of life is non-negotiable." They were right, but not in the way they intended--nature does not negotiate with nations, and America will not be able to consume more oil than oilfields can produce no matter how loudly we "demand" it. At most we will be able to consume increasingly more than our share of declining production, by means I shudder to contemplate.

    The myth that technological solutions that have not proven themselves at scale up to this point will materialize just in time to allow us to continue to consume energy at non-sustainable rates is running into the reality that renewable energy is just not ready for prime time right now, especially with respect to liquid fuels upon which such a large portion of our economic activity depends. The transition is going to be painful all around, so buckle up.

  8. Eugene Goodrich

    A good interim criticism?

    Biofuel from would-be-food cropland is not the only possible production method ever. Is there room around this paper's complaints for something like vat algae production?

    I should note that CO2 and food production criticisms leave out the terrorism (or, "terr'ism", as some over here pronounce it) prices. It may be much less militarily expensive for the US to secure and produce ethanol itself. (Although I favor trade with South America, and hope we don't end up having to one day chant "no blood for sugar-cane juice".)

  9. Andy

    It's nice that they are catching up slowly

    It took 18 years for the US to accept Global Warming / Climate Change after Europe decided it was proved in (about 1990). It only took 5 years for them to understand why growing biofuels isn't really a good idea after Europe showed that. At this rate, the may actually get ahead of the game soon. Yay!

  10. Andy Pellew

    If you didn't use Corn ...

    ... then you'd probably be a lot better off. It's actually the insistance of US Biofuel makers in using Corn (which is horredously hard to convert into Ethanol) rather than, say, Sugar (which is easier, not easy, but easier).

    But that's what you get when you have a massive farming lobby that insists people buy their corn.

    As always you can "fix" figures by specifying what you measure ... for example how come Brazil has managed to go solve this problem and the US has not?

    Of Particular interest is the section "Comparison with the United States" which contains the real jem;

    "The fundamental issue is that the energy balance of ethanol produced from Corn is negative. It is necessary approximately 1 joule of source energy (Fossil Fuel, Electricity, etc...) to produce 0,7 joules worth of Ethanol energy, given current technology. In other words, Corn ethanol is not viable as a source of energy as it wastes more than it generates. Sugar Cane ethanol, on the other hand, after 3 decades of reasearch, have reached 1 to 8 joules of energy production balance, that is, 1 joule is spent to produce 8 joules worth of ethanol energy."

  11. John

    Who says...

    Since when is the US responsible for feeding the world? Seriously.

    I noticed the article does not include the reduction of greenhouse gasses caused by not using gasoline in cars? That should be considered (although I don't know the numbers)

    A recent article I read about the switchgrass use suggested that there is no need to remove existing crops in order to grow it. It is hardy and can grow just about anywhere, including next to existing crops...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    worse than what?

    All methods of energy production have their drawbacks. Real work to make processes more efficient change the equations over time. Like burning lignin to generate some of the energy needed in ethanol production.

    But even if farming for ethanol releases CO2, so does farming for corn, or sugar cane, or rice. The transition to biofuel will obviously require some upfront cost, but the payoff in the long run is that you set up a renewable system of converting the Sun's energy for powering our lives.

    We can keep burning coal and oil. Or we can move to a system that only releases the CO2 we can capture through farming.

    There used to be a lot more CO2 in our atmosphere, before green things started living here. Burning coal and oil keeps us marching in that direction. Switching to biofuels stops that march.

    A lot of work is yet to be done before biofuels are ready for primetime. We should definitely have more public education on the matter. But solar and wind are from ready to handle our energy requirements too.

  13. Steven Hunter


    "biofuel systems seem to be more effective at smaller scales"

    No, that's not the case. To quote the article:

    "Because existing land uses *already* provide carbon benefits in storage and sequestration ... dedicating land to biofuels can potentially reduce greenhouse gases only if doing so *increases* the carbon benefit of land."

    So if you have a spot of land that has trees, shrubbery, crops, or what-have-you, the Bio-Fuel crops you plant must sequester *more* carbon than the original plant life did in order to provide any benefit. It doesn't have anything to do with the industry surrounding the conversion of the biomass into fuel.

  14. Mark

    Most sensible biofuels

    are made from waste products or from weed grown on marginal land.

    Trying to get petrol from corn (which requires a lot of energy in the cultivation to grow) is damn stupid, but the corn growers in the US like their pork.

  15. RRRoamer


    How many idiots post here...

    A few things to ponder:

    1) Does the US have the technology to produce all of it's electricity carbon free? Yes! We've had it for the last 60 years. It's called nuclear power.

    2) Does large scale wind power farms FUCK up the view of nature? Yes! There is one about 20 miles off one of the highways I travel. Thirty miles of wind turbines make power lines look positively insignificant. And pretty.

    3) Why does the US insist on (trying to) use corn for ethanol? Because the land here is VERY suited to growing corn, but not very suited at all for growing sugar. Why do you think places like Brazil are known for sugar exports, but not the US?

    4) Is using the primary food crop for the WORLD to make fuel a good idea??? Uhm, NO! The primary impact won't be felt in the US. It will be felt in all those countries that import US food stuffs (look it up. There are a LOT of them). It's not nice, but it is true: The US will still have all the food they need. The rest of the world will suffer though. Dependency on oil sucks. Dependency on basic food stuffs is REALLY bad.

    5) Should the US invest in more non carbon based energy production? Of course! The real bitch is developing alternative systems that are actually cost effective. As the price of oil goes up, there will be more and more cost effective solutions out there. Not to mention, as the alternative systems mature, they will become more and more cost effective in there own right. The transition WILL happen. It's just a question of time. Some of us think a free market will time it better than a government mandate. Of course, some of use have actually looked at the majority of government programs that were an abject failure and recognized them for what they are.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But what if Saudi Arabia...

    All this US harping on ethanol from maize etc has always puzzled me. As well as oil, what else does Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states have lots of? Answer: sunshine. If they expanded their reverse-osmosis extraction of fresh water from the Gulf and the Red Sea, they could grow an awful lot of sugar cane. Brazil knows how to efficiently distill ethanol from sucrose.

    So when the oil runs out, countries with seasides and hot deserts could still be the major energy suppliers. Surely it would take a long time before it made the sea shores too salty? OK, I don't have the data to say if this would be viable, but it's surely worth some research?

  17. Fred
    Paris Hilton


    Hemp (see wiki) - decriminalize it.

    Grow it instead of Trees for paper, instead of (or as well as) cotton for clothing, instead of soy for food, and instead of corn for bio-fuels.

    Less water requirements, less fertilizer requirements than many (or possibly any) current production crop. Faster growing, and more renewable (yearly or more so) than trees.

    an acre of hemp produces 4x or more times the fiber of trees for paper, 2.5 x more fiber for clothing than cotton, the seeds can be crushed for oils which are as healthy (or more so taking into consideration growing requirements) as Soy.

    Anything left over can be added to the residuals from corn, wheat, cotton and other current production crops for conversion to ethanol in fermentation process(es).


    Alternatively, all of the above residuals can be converted via Pyrolysis (see wiki) to any or all of the following :

    - synthetic diesel fuel

    - bio-oil: can be used as a fuel, after removal of valuable bio-chemicals that can be used as food additives or pharmaceuticals.

    syngas - (flammable mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen)

    hydrogen - (remove the CO)

    solid char - (charcoal for the barby) - also known as Biochar

    Biochar - can be used as fertilizer

    Paris because she's as confused as I am as to why this plant is illegal.

  18. Luke Silburn

    It's Not About Responsibility It's About Consequences

    "Since when is the US responsible for feeding the world? Seriously."

    Seriously? The US isn't responsible (as in 'obliged') but they are *responsible* (as in, 'foreigners have imported a lot of US-grown food in the past').

    If the US has less food to trade to foreigners (because it's being brewed up into SUV-juice) then it follows that foreigners will have to grow their own to make up the difference (or starve, but that's generally not a good policy option to adopt). Furthermore, if the food that foreigners now grow (to replace the US imports they can no longer get) comes from newly cleared land then it is reasonable to count the resultant CO2 emissions as part of the 'whole system' cost for the decision to devote Iowan corn to SUV-juice rather than exporting it for tortilla flour or whatever.

    It's not America's *fault* that foreigners clear forests or drain peat bogs to grow food, but it's an unintended consequence of the biofuels policy the US has adopted.



  19. a

    Carbon Capture

    There are more intelligent carbon capture methods available than simply pumping gas into the ground. One that will have a pilot plant running the near future is Skyonic's SkyMine, which uses the heat energy available in a smoke stack to convert the CO2 into CaCO3 (calcium carbonate aka baking soda). The baking soda can then be injected back into a well, where it (unlike a gas) will stay.

  20. Maria Helm

    switchgrass lawns

    Seems much of the complaint is over converting food crop land or converting non-farming land. The solution is to convert to switchgrass all those 1-acre ChemGreen lawns in the McMansion subdivisions that keep popping up everywhere in the US. Nobody lets their kids out to play in those neighborhoods anyway, and they could get them 'mowed' for free by whatever business collects the switchgrass for fuel...possibly receiving fuel credits in return. All you have to do is convince them it's an *upscale* landscaping option...perhaps charge them 10k to have it installed when the house is built..

  21. Anonymous Coward


    I'd forgotten just how pretty Nuclear power plants were.

    Modern Turbines nicely placed can fit in with the landscape quite

    nicely IMO.

    They've placed them in the country side near me.

    I'll take them any day over the alternatives.

  22. James Smythe

    If we could just fix what we have...

    If we could stop pissing away so much of our currently generated energy to horridly in-efficient transmission and storage we would have a breather to spend some serious research time and $ on something different.

    The trick is someone other than the US is going to have to step up and do this research because we are so buried in special interest crap we will never dig our way out of it before the technology is really needed. At best you will see the same ½ hearted and frighteningly shortsighted nonsense we have seen up to this point.

    If we had better storage and transmission suddenly wave, tidal, wind, geo-therm, and solar become real everyday usable options for a much larger % of the population. We need to recycle the 1960s style transmission system and drop a few billion into a real upgrade coast to coast. Heck all we would have to do is take all the pork going to oil companies currently are put it towards this instead and you’d have your budget covered and then some. There is really no incentive for the current system to upgrade if they can’t make any money on it (and they can’t) but we all need to focus on something besides generating short term stock profits if we don’t want to find out the hard way what the absence of sustainability means. The food riots of 2020 will probably be “no fun for anyone”.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Developing nations....

    People in developing nations are largely involved in subsistence agriculture, they grow food for themselves and then sell the excess... High food prices would benefit such people wouldn't they? To the detriment of non-food producing fatso's who need to lose weight anyhow..

    Regarding energy balance, hydrogen takes more energy to produce than is contained within it, so the hydrogen economy is out, when the oil runs short we'll have to work with an energy deficit.

    Looks like bio-fuels won't save the planet.. :(

    ...but they will get the muzzo's off our backs. :)

  24. Jason Haas

    Wither biodiesel? It's not directly mentioned but is indirectly impugned

    What grinds me about this is that it solely talks about corn and switchgrass, and uses "biofuels" too generally. What about biodiesel? We've been growing soybeans and canola for ages, and every time there's a harvest, there's "increased" CO2 release from the equipment. every time food is shipped, there's "increased" CO2 release. Any time we do anything, there's "increased" CO2 release.

    This apparently does not look at making biodiesel, be it from soybeans (not so good, though what I use -- me, a baby seal killing bunghole!), canola (better, more yield per acre, maybe less pesticides), or better yet, algae. Or waste fry grease.

    In short I don't think we're going to cause the world to end by using biodiesel. But don't equate it with ethanol. Biodiesel uses far less energy and resources to produce than ethanol, and you get 3:1 energy output:input ratio with biodiesel, as opposed to at best 1:1 with ethanol.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Here we go again

    Yet again the Reg suspends all critical thinking the moment anyone publish anything that supports it's anti-green agenda.

    This was laughed out of Slashdot a few days ago so why why ignore the blatant failings in the research (limiting the fuel source to corn on US croplands, ignoring that in the long term the initial CO2 releases discussed are cancelled out by the savings biofuels do produce, ignoring the energy costs of transporting fossil fuels etc and only considering the release of actually burning the stuff).

    I used to think reporters around here had a brain and the ability to see beyond the obvious knee jerk headlines but it seems that this is long gone.

  26. Al Jones


    "2) Does large scale wind power farms FUCK up the view of nature? Yes! There is one about 20 miles off one of the highways I travel. Thirty miles of wind turbines make power lines look positively insignificant. And pretty."

    I simply can't understand this position. I've actually stopped my car to get out and watch the majestic sight of a wind turbine in motion - it's certainly not something I've ever done for a transmission line. I've seen windfarms in deserts, I've seen them on moorland, I've seen them in farmland, I've seen them on hills, I've seen them in forests. I've never seen one that I considered uglier than the transmission pylons that connect it to the grid. (And there are a hell of a lot more transmission pylons about).

  27. Ebenezer Cooke


    Baking soda is NaHCO3. Calcium carbonate is limestone or chalk. You can catch CO2 with Ca(OH)2 - calcium hydroxide. But the technical process of producing calcium hydroxide means that you have to remove carbon dioxide from limestone by heating it to high temperatures. So you need to take care of two CO2 molecules for each molecule you sequester as calcium carbonate. To me this seems like a futile circle.

    If you really want to make baking soda, you will still have the Solvay process which was invented when ammonia was expensive and lime was cheap. No net catching of CO2 there.

    Or you could use Hou's process, which is the present industrial fashion. But then you have to find a cheap enough method for making ammonia, and a good way of disposing of the ammonium chloride.

    And you may need to take care of a million tons per site per year.

  28. easyk

    Launch The Solar Shade

    Energy turns to heat (or light but mostly heat).

    Energy production emits gasses that trap more heat.

    Well if we have enough heat lets just reject some from the main source.

    Its not too difficut: volcanos do it all the time.

    Best of luck.

  29. Red Bren


    You're probably going to call me an idiot but here goes anyway...

    1) Why is nuclear power viewed as such a panacea? The ones in the UK constantly seep low-level waste into the environment - hence the Irish Sea is the most radioactive in the world. Uranium is even more of a bugger to handle and transport than oil and how long until the uranium reserves run out? Is this not just postponing the problem?

    2) Wind farms spoiling the view is your personal opinion. Like pylons before them, there are those that think they are a blot on the landscape, but I rather like them. However, why not locate them offshore? Of fit one to the roof of every house? It might not meet the power requirements of the household but will help offset it, and the base load from other forms of generation can be ramped up or down in line with weather forecasts.

    3) If US arable land is best suited to growing corn, then it should continue to do so. but if converting that corn into ethanol requires a net input of energy, doesn't it make more sense to trade it as food in return for the cane-ethanol of Brazil, which they can then produce more of instead of corn?

    4) I agree, see point 3.

    5) I agree to a certain extent but I can't see the free market doing anything without a push from government. In Germany, the take up of micro-generation is boosted because the government mandate a minimum price for the generated energy. In the UK there's nothing doing because there's no incentive.

    The other element that needs to be addressed is our culture of consumption.

    Mine's the hemp jacket that gives me that warm, smug hippie feeling...

  30. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Up

    Maria Helm

    ...if you're not in politics yet, you *ought* to be. :)

  31. Herby

    Be careful for what you wish for... may just get it.

    The law of unintended consequences. Applies to many things.

    Stated another way: "Ooops".

  32. Michael C

    Debunking myths and rumors

    1st, most cellulostic ethanol crop will NOT be grown on usable farm land. That's the fucking point! Making ethanol from things that grow well wehre food does not. We have millions of acres of land that we can't grow food on, but certain weeds and grasses thrive on. We can also make it from wood byproducts that most considder waste products. It can also be made from felling trees that would otherwise naturally fall and degrade releasing their CO2 back into the atmosphere anyway.

    2nd, there's no "releaseing" stored CO2 when we clear land. Yes, CO2 will be made once we convert the plants to ethanol and then burn it, but new plants growing in their place reclaim that influx. Pretty Obvious stated "Just because the carbon based chemicals are fom plants that died a couple of months ago rather than plants that died a couple of ages ago doesnt make that much difference." Well, actually it's ALL the difference. We burn ethanol from plants, which makles more plants, which gets burned again. Hence RENEWABLE fuel. Burning the oil in the ground makes CO2, and yes, plants reclaim some of that, but those plants die and release their CO2 back again anyway as part of normal biodegrading cycles. It takes millkions of years to put that CO2 back underground, and it was CO2 that wasn't part of the system recently and therefore 100% adds to the system. Some CO2 is added to the system when we clear a lot of bio matter, but somewhere else we're growing more to compensate. We can't cut it all down at once because it would take a few years to regrow it... it will be a CYCLE.

    3, celulostic ethanol is not a myth. It exists TODAY. See this article: It's being produced. It does exist. A plant in Georgia will open soon (see and when running at full capacity will be making ethanol for about $1 per gallon.

    4, ethanol from starch (corn) is bad. The energy required to make it is nearly equal to what is acquired from it. Unless we can come up with a way of making it using free renewable energy, it's pointless to try. If we DO make it using 100% renewable energy, whell then why the fuck wouldn't we just send that energy as electricity to the car's batteries, which gets near 60% return vs using an ICE at 35-40% efficiency...

    5, ethanol from sugars, (sugarbeets, cane, etc) is much better than corn, higher yilds per acre, higher yield per bushel, and lower cost per acre, but it requires high grade soils, rotation, and is suceptibale to climate conditions and growing days. It also still produces less ethanol per acre per year than cellulosic processing.

    6, celulosic plants and fungus grow in water too. Ocean water. This also helps clean toxins from the ocean water, a double good effect. We have a whole lot of ocean we can grow fungus and plants on without impacting food supplies at all, and it can help the ocean to boot? Sign us up! Foriegn nations are experimenting with methods for growing and harvesting massive crops just like this.

    7, we won't be powering cars on ethanol in place of gas. We'll be using ethnol in the future only as a SUPLEMENT to plug-in electric driven vehicles. You only need to burn fuel when the battery is low or on long trips. Power can be generated centrally and run over super conducting lines from clean generating facilities run by wind in the north, solar in the west, water most places, coastal tide power, and goe thermal as well. With investment, it is possible to run almost everything off of 100% renewable carbonless power. We only need fuel for when we are not near a power source.

    8, "clean coal" is NOT an answer. It's a horroble polluting product. Sure, it's less polluting, but it still releases just as much CO2. We can scrub the CO2 out of the system to a limited extent instead of releasing it to the air, but not at an economical cost compared to other 100% renewable sources... and doing so completely destroys a local body of water to do it. Yes, it;s better than regular coal, yes we can reduce it's carbon output by 50-70%, but it costs more than solar or wind, still pollutes, and is still not renewable. Do the math, it;s bad.

    9, bio diesel, OK, so pumping certain gasses into a lake filled with a fungus allows the fungus to convert it into a form of diesel fuel. How many lakes will it take to do this for just the population of California? more than we have in the total landmass of the USA. It also means we loose that lake as a source of fresh water, which is another resource in short supply. Bad idea...

    The real scoop: We need solar, wind, water, and geo-thermal power expansion. We need investment in battery tech, CVT transmissions, superconducting grid infrastructure, etc. We need to shift more people to remote work sites (from home where possible, segmented small office space where not). We need a better commuting system, lots more tele-commuting, tighter environmental codes, tighter building codes. It's going to cots money. Lots of money. It's going to be cheaper than sealing Florida in a wall to keep it from sinking into the ocean, and it's going to be cheaper than the $10 per gallon we'll be paying by 2020.

  33. Tim

    They've missed the point completely

    If you're buring a biofuel, you're not burning a fossil fuel which would have previously been burnt. Therefore carbon is staying locked up in the ground rather than in the atmosphere causing global warming.

    America came in thought, "if we're not burning fossil fuels we don't have to start as many wars in the middle east", so they are making it, but the same amount of fossil fuels are still being released. When fossil fuel "production" slows in the next few years, replacing it with something which has to be re-newed each year makes it a finite resource, which should spur efficiency in either vehicles or production methods.

    This report seems to think that to get enough corn they're going to bulldoze trees. Non-edible crops which can grow in areas which are not currently habitable can be used. Farm cactus in the desert, etc. The yields probably won't be great but you're not destroying anything

  34. Bounty

    seems just like a XP v.s. Linux argument

    I've had this same discussion before in the XP v Linux crowd. (linux is the cumbersome, 'better' product, like green energy)

    It'll happen when running XP, I mean Vista (I mean oil/coal energy) is more of a hassle than the alternative. In the meantime feel free to dual boot.

  35. John A Blackley

    No easy answers

    So there are - apart from G.Brown's obsession with tax and currently doing it in the name of saving the planet - no easy answers?

    That must be a real blow to certain sections of the 'green' movement.

    If we don't use corn, sawgrass, daffodils or petunias as a substitute for oil - oh my God! Whatever are we going to do?

    Well, we're going to have to be more inventive - something the United States used to be good at.

  36. Paul


    "1) Does the US have the technology to produce all of it's electricity carbon free? Yes! We've had it for the last 60 years. It's called nuclear power."

    So instead of wrecking the atmosphere with carbon, we have to dispose of lots of lovely radioactive spent fuel with a half life measured in millenia. Sweet!

    Where do you propose to put it, exactly? In the oceans? Underground? Shoot it into space? Use it to turn countries we don't like into radioactive wastelands? Throw 55-gallon drums of the shit off the back of a truck in parts of the country where people are too disadvantaged and beaten down to fight back? Load it up on a ship and hope someone, somewhere, will allow it to dock and take it off our hands?

    Swapping one harmful by-product for another is NOT a solution, unless of course you subscribe to the myopic "carbon bad, reduce CO2 at all costs" mindset so many "environmentalists" have.

    "2) Does large scale wind power farms FUCK up the view of nature? Yes!"

    No more so than anything else we build does.

    Besides, given a choice between fucking up the *view* of nature, or actually fucking up nature itself by spewing CO2 or spent uranium all over it, I'll take the compromised view, thanks. I can always position myself so that the wind farm isn't spoiling my view, but I can't position myself on another planet with breathable air and non-radioactive ground.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like another study sponsored by the oil companies

    Not sure I believe this. Even if it is true, ethanol is still made from a renewable resource, oil is not. Ethanol is also produced locally instead of being transported in oil tankers across the ocean and finally ethanol is not produced in volatile countries that could implode at any point and cause global economic issues. Ethanol is not the solution, but one of many steps in a better direction.

  38. Nomen Publicus

    Sun Burn

    If only we had politicians who were not the intellectual equivalent of 3 year olds. All energy on earth is ultimately derived from the Sun. Every "alternative" energy source that is a step away from solar energy is inefficient. Wood, oil and coal emit CO2. The USA, Africa and Australia have millions of square miles of desert that could be used for solar energy. The fact that such a clean energy source is always ignored in favour of crazy ideas such as biofuel suggests political rather than technological thinking.

    The middle east may be rich because of oil, but central Africa could become rich through solar energy. Who is blocking this?

  39. Morely Dotes

    What this planet needs... an engine that runs on piss. Make your own fuel!

    Mine's the yellow slicker...

  40. Morely Dotes

    @ Paul

    "So instead of wrecking the atmosphere with carbon, we have to dispose of lots of lovely radioactive spent fuel with a half life measured in millenia. Sweet!"

    Dear fuckwit: That radioactive material is *already* here. All we need to do is bury it deep when we're done with it (since we dug it up in the first place) in a reasonably-stable salt formation, under, perhaps, Nevada, or London (since that's clearly also useless wasteland).

  41. Ian Michael Gumby

    A lot of assumptions in what has been reported....

    The article states that their assumption is that by converting land to biofuel production that there will be a release of CO2 in to the air. (You can reread the article for the quote.)

    This isn't necessarily true. You have farmers which need to rotate crops as well as have land which was planted with less than favorable plants like tobacco. Utilizing this land to grow potential bio-fuel crops has some merit.

    In the larger scheme of things, biofuels will only make a dent in our CO2 emissions. If you want to make a larger chunk, you'll have to look at Nuclear Energy.

    Ooops! I said a naughty word that many "environmentalists" hate to hear. Start building newer generations of plants and move towards electric and hydrogen based transportation.

    Or we could wipe out half our population... Less people, less CO2 emissions and less food required to eat. What was that star trek eppisode (old series) where a man killed 10% of the colony to save the other 90%?

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this really an objective report ???

    During the global warming debate, several of the "scientists" arguing against Global Warming were later found to be funded by the large oil companies.

    Reminds me of the smoking debate of years past when big tobacco funded several studies showing smoking good for your health.

    This also reminds me of the University of Lousianna study that tobasco is good for your health funded by the Avery Island Foundation ....

    Before I would believe this report, I would question exactly who funded this report and why.

    Given the current Bush Administration, they are about as pro big oil as possible.

    Any study with their funding is suspect at best. I can't remember the last time that I heard qualified and Bush in the same sentence.

    Regardless of global warming, we need serious alternatives to oil.

    Right now our economy and our standard of living is heavily dependent on oil from unstable governments that strongly don't like us.

    Sending large sums of money to people that would like to destroy you is stupid.

    Unless you are an oil company and make large profits.

    Our oil money is directly funding terrorism against us. Where do you think the money to buy road side bombs in Iraq comes from ? The bomb fairy ...

    It is really sad to have lost trust in our large U.S. oil corporations.

    No doubt the best interest of our big oil companies is no longer the best interest of the people of the United States.

  43. Warhelmet

    Not News

    This is old stuff. Tell me something I don't know...

    But remember that bio-diesel can be made from liposuctioned fat. And the remains of the obese. It's not just cooking fat that can be used that way.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is this really an objective report ???

    During the global warming debate, several of the "scientists" arguing against Global Warming were later found to be funded by the large oil companies.

    Reminds me of the smoking debate of years past when big tobacco funded several studies showing smoking good for your health.

    This also reminds me of the University of Lousianna study that tobasco is good for your health funded by the Avery Island Foundation ....

    Before I would believe this report, I would question exactly who funded this report and why.

    Given the current Bush Administration, they are about as pro big oil as possible.

    Any study with their funding is suspect at best. I can't remember the last time that I heard qualified and Bush in the same sentence.

    Regardless of global warming, we need serious alternatives to oil.

    Right now our economy and our standard of living is heavily dependent on oil from unstable governments that strongly don't like us.

    Sending large sums of money to people that would like to destroy you is stupid.

    Unless you are an oil company and make large profits.

    Our oil money is directly funding terrorism against us. Where do you think the money to buy road side bombs in Iraq comes from ? The bomb fairy ...

    It is really sad to have lost trust in our large U.S. oil corporations.

    No doubt the best interest of our big oil companies is no longer the best interest of the people of the United States.

  45. b shubin

    Great news, in a way

    for individual farmers, this ethanol-switchgrass-whatever boom is a panacea. the industrial agribusiness megacorps will jump into it to get federal subsidies, and local small farmers will be able to compete in food production. that WILL save emissions, as locally farmed food will be more economically feasible and available again.

    the industrial players are also in a good position to create demand for bioengineered fuel crops, so Monsanto and gang may produce something actually useful, like sugar cane that can grow in temperate, cold, or dry climates (for example). hard to see how a company that spliced cockroach genes into food, would be unable to come up with any Frankenproduct for this demand.

    this is a many-sided development, and i don't think we've seen all the possibilities and implications yet. even failure will bring useful results.

  46. JC

    False premise

    When farmers are being paid not to produce crops on their already present crop fields, the issue is not whether plowing up new land would release carbon.

    Nobody's saying we have to immediately switch to use of biofuel instead of gas, but to create more fuel instead of wasting the sun's energy is a good idea. If all else fails we could just store it for a "rainy day", you never know when a thing like fuel might come in handy even if used to power a greener new power generation system instead of pumped into an ICE automobile.

  47. Ole Juul

    Re: Not News

    Old news, I agree. As for obesity as an energy source, we could probably setup acres of exercise bikes with generators. Now THAT would be a pretty sight! It's pretty obvious though, that ANY discussion about energy sources and usage is, in the end, just about people.

    Here is some real biofuel news:

    "Some 150,000 families in Argentina and 90,000 families in Paraguay have already been displaced by soya. The accelerating rate of soya expansion due to the agrofuel boom is associated with increasing frequency of evictions."

  48. Thyl Engelhardt

    Far from a solution

    RRRoamer: The uran estimated to exist on this planet will only last for about 70 years, if used for electrical energy production. As only about 10 % of all our primary energy consumption are presently electricity, using nuclear power for the provision of every kind of energy required (heating and transportation etc) would reduce this time frame to about 7 years. Not really future proof, imho.

    AI Jones: I have made a guesstimate for the requirements of wind turbines for producing all of the primary energy consumed in Germany, and ended up at about 3 million turbines. That will be close to ten such facilities per square kilometre.

    Overall: Aside from the effect on carbon dioxide emissions, I do not think that humanity should use an even larger proportion of the available land masses, and should instead reserse as large areas as possible for "wilderness". At 6.5 billion people, we are devastating the whole planet, even without additional energy production from plants.

    Maybe Sahara could be used for producing solar based energy, which in turn could be used to produce e.g. methanol directly from air carbon dioxide; but I am not sure.

  49. David Sidebotham

    Inconvenient truth

    As a nation the Americans consume too much - well a lot more than anyone else anyway.

    If they ate less, drove smaller vehicles and flew less then there would be more land for bio fuel and they would not need so much fuel anyway. And if they ate less beef it would reduce the emission of the greenhouse gas methane because there would be fewer cattle.

    The problem is the “American dream”: as long as it is legal, that everyone should be empowered to do anything. Other nationalities including the UK have picked up the same idea. This attitude is responsible for the state of the world today. Sad but true.

  50. Karl Lattimer

    I feel somewhat vindicated

    I've only been saying this for about 5 years to the friggin hippies going on and on and on about friggin biofuel.

    in the immortal words of malcolm mclaren, "NEVER TRUST A HIPPIE"

  51. Mark SPLINTER

    Stop eating meat

    Burning food is almost as stupid as feeding it to food.

    Oh look, i just solved the problem.

  52. Anonymous Coward

    energy problem solved..

    ..within fifty years we'll have a working fusion reactor!

    I haven't heard this meme for a while; mine's the 'very light' 50 year old jacket, RICKSHAW!

  53. Jeckle

    dot Corn Crash

    So as US stops producing corn and India's sugar gets turned into fuel we will be paying more for our bitter Post Toasties and less for our fuel. Hmmm. This is good news but as The Common Man once said "The people who make the rules, don't row the boats."

    Biofuels suck. Nuclear is clean. I'm for a small reactor in every house, car, office block and not a whiff of C2O2 anywhere. Just cause you can't see radiation doesn't make it any worse than C2O2 (Carbon monoxide -- also invisible) which will also cause your kids to have 3 eyes and 15 fingers and give you lung cancer. Radiation is also more easily detectable and to stop it (it also travels in a straight line) all you need is a bit of lead paint... oops

    Skull and crossbones as there is no Toxic Waste icon.

  54. Liam O'Flaherty

    Destroy the meat industry and use THAT land for good use instead!

    Easy peasy, I just solved the problem. Now to get my "hippy" ass back to work...

  55. Robert Grant


    Indeed. Freedom isn't free, and all that. But there's no massive incentive to do anything other than live for now and for oneself. Anything else can be decried as controlling, outdated, boring...anything you get accused of when you give a teenager some advice, basically.

  56. IR

    It's pretty obvious

    Why would anyone expect biofuels to be carbon neutral or better? The plants may remove X amount from the air but then they produce X amount when burnt too. When you add in the energy used to convert them into fuel, production and distribution, plus wastage, there was always going to be more carbon used. Still better than drilling for oil though, which has all the same carbon costs but doesn't extract it from the air. Whether the economic or environmental impact is any better can be debated separately.

  57. Morten Ranulf Clausen

    I don't get it...

    The carbon footprint aside, there's something deeply disturbing about the worldwide discussion on biofuels. A couple of years ago is was evil to subsidize food production in the rich countries because it lowered the grain price which made poor folks everywhere give up farming and so caused starvation. Now it's evil to grow less grain in the rich countries because that will raise the world price on grain so the poor can't afford food and hence it'll cause starvation. I don't get it, I really don't. Are the poor of the world suddenly too dumb/lazy/whatever to take up farming or sumtin'? Could someone please give me the lowdown on this? Sounds a lot like racism to me... Or perhaps both points are just examples of the blinkered idiocy that makes do for science these days.

    As for radiation from nuclear power plants being a Bad Thing - try using a Geiger counter near a coal-powered plant for a dare... Google radon for explanation.

    "All energy on earth is ultimately derived from the Sun" - no. Think geothermal. Not a lot of that comes from the Sun. Not even originally.

    /me dreaming about science entering the fray at some point...

  58. Ole Juul

    @ Morten Ranulf Clausen

    "Are the poor of the world suddenly too dumb/lazy/whatever to take up farming or sumtin'?"

    Biofuel is a rich man's game. Many poor people are already farming but they're not really part of the equation except as a nuisance factor.

    News clip: "Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) A British firm, Sun Biofuels PLC, has been given the go ahead by the authorities in Tanzania to embark on a massive multimillion dollar biofuel project that will involve the displacement of thousands of peasants in the Kisarawe district of the Coast Region for the 9,000 hectares of land needed by the foreign investor, APA learnt Sunday."

    I understand that 11 villages are being displaced and each family will be paid just over $200 in "compensation". So, after generations of living in one place, here's this fellow walking down the highway with his wife and kids in tow, but he's got $200 in his pocket... life if good. I'm sure there are lots of other success stories like this.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Ole Juul

    But Tanzania will be richer, or more exactly its corrupt government that doesn't give a damn about its people will be.

    Unless you are advocating mass interventionism on a scale not seen since the British empire was being formed, that problem is for Tanzanians to solve within their country, reducing the value of a nations resources to the point where they don't exploit them isn't a solution.

  60. Ole Juul


    It's getting a bit late in this thread but I just had to ask. What do you mean? I understand, and agree with, your first sentence, but I have no idea what the rest of it meant. I am not concerned if you agree or disagree with me. You are entitled to your opinion, but what are you saying?

    My point was that a farmer has a life for himself and his family. Then he is evicted and his life is destroyed, with no hope for the future. No place to live and no longer any way to make a living. Should we not care? Should we not at least consider that in some small way?

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    space the final frontier

    space the final frontier,no limit to expansion, just limits on the out put of the sun. Who gets the prime spots? Less worry of pollution on planets with no atmosphere

    [nuclear?] I'll go..why not ,here concrete jungle ,pollution ,noise.Same as inspace, but, I can at least see the stars. Lets look forward..

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How accurate?

    I often wonder about claims on the carbon in forested lands compared to cropping, and reports such as these. Who is behind them, what interests do the individual report writer, management, organisations, and information sources have. It is all too difficult and too much to look through. But as this website might say, that is what the international conspirators want.

    I am not an conspiracy nut, but after all the deception, blundering, scientific blundering too, I have seen over the years, you have to conclude that they can't be that moronic/dumb.

    Do I really know what I am talking about here, not really, but some crops grow awfully fast and repetitively, sugar cane and a foot a day bamboo being the more commonly known ones, where as mature forests reach an peak and start off loading an higher portion of carbon and fires. So, if we peaked at 60 tonnes an acre for 200 years, how much is that compared to an mature forest, or planted forest reaching maturity. But then again, what forests are compared to what crops. Some forests are slower growing, some faster, some thick some thinner on the carbon. What are we talking about here, have they regarded all perimeters, tested all combinations, what assumptions etc etc etc (the usual thing scientist get wrong). Probably going to have to watch new scientist for the next year to find out what comes up.

    I am going to say something that would make hippies hop (not talking about, hip hop, here) and greenies of all persuasions. But it might be more carbon favourable to chop down some forests for furniture and burning for electricity generation, then plant a repetitively fast growing dense crop, than to leave them be. Anyway. not something I favour so much either.

    The reality is that in the short term that an variety of methods might be desirable, liquid fuel desirable energy density and high energy delivery for cars, wind farms, nuclear, solar thermal plants for mains electricity, and algae. Eventually technology might lead to higher solar efficiency energy storage density (silicon nano wire batteries etc) and lower consumption to produce more energy than we use, all with similar living standards.

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