Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Biofuel Disaster

We pull up at a gas station and lo and behold, there’s an option to buy ethanol gasoline. Fabulous! Our ticket to guilt-free driving. We choose the eco-option, filler up and drive away knowing that we are doing our bit to help the planet.

Afterall, biofuels are humanity’s eco-saviour, one great solution to our energy and climate woes.


A lot of ink and e-words have been spilled of late calling to question the eco-ness of biofuels.

Well, here are additional e-words to summarize the good and the ugly of the alternative fuel….

Quickie Biofuel Facts
Under the biofuel umbrella you will find ethanol and biodiesel.

Ethanol is alcohol, simply put. Never mix alcohol with driving? Welcome to the 21st century. Ethanol increases octane levels when mixed with gasoline. As a result, ethanol-fed cars produce less harmful tailpipe emissions than cars run on pure fossil fuel. Americans distill their ethanol from corn. Folks in Latin America use sugar cane. Also used are sorghum, potatoes, wheat, as well as biomass such as cornstalks and vegetable waste. If you drive a car, it’ll take ethanol enriched gas.

Biodiesel is meant for, surprise, surprise, diesel engines, and comes from natural oils from plants and animals. The soybean, that amazing versatile legume, as well as palm oil, is quite often used. Biodiesel is meant for big trucks and Europeans (who drive diesel cars).

The Sunny-Side of Biofuels
Technically speaking, biofuels have a lot going for them in the eco-department. As pointed out they’re good at reducing harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. While biofuels produce carbon dioxide when burned, this is offset by the crops grown to produce the fuel, which are carbon sinks. This of course goes out the window when forests are burned to create the biofuel crops. Which brings us to….

Biofuels’ Dirty Little Secrets
The problems concerning biofuels are considerable, especially when there is an assumption that biofuels will simply replace fossil fuels. There are millions of thirsty cars out there. There are billions of hungry people. It is calculated that we would literally have to replace the food crops for fuel crops if we want to continue driving the way we do. Would you rather eat or drive? Would you rather drive and have billions starve?

Oh those crazy ethical questions.

And another thing….corn-based ethanol production use nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides that help heat our planet and poison our soil and water.

A Bloody Awful Mess
Meanwhile, at the equator, palm oil and sugar cane are harvested for fuel. Palm oil is the cheapest commodity going. The European Community has given palm growers a gift. The EU mandated that diesel consist of five percent vegetable oil by 2010. In fact, the US and Canada are planning for increases in biofuels in the next 15 years or so.

In response to this opportunity, palm growers in South East Asia are burning down their forests and in so doing producing vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Malaysia’s great diversity of tree species, powerful carbon sinks, are for the most part vapourized and currently heating our planet. Gone also are many species that relied on those trees. The indigenous people who once lived in the forest are now displaced.

Compared to what once stood in their place, palm trees are not nearly as effective at capturing carbon dioxide. Malaysia is not the only country in the region to see this devastation. Indonesia, Sumatra and Borneo too report millions of hectares lost. And there’s more chopping to come.

On the other side of the planet, sugar cane-based ethanol is giving desperate and greedy people one other opportunity to burn down the Amazon forest.

A five percent requirement for biofuel in our motors will not even touch the carbon footprint this burning has created. Governments have committed themselves to biofuel, opened up a market for it and…well…the genie is now out of the bottle. Our current global trade laws could care less about environmental impact.

To the eco-conscious who love to drive, resist the biofuels and commit to driving less. Contact your MP or Congressperson and tell them that an investment in biofuels is the wrong track. It will never replace fossil fuel and its production is heralding in a humanitarian and environmental disaster.

For more:

George Monbiot’s Worse than Fossil Fuel

U.N.: Not So Fast With Ethanol, Other Biofuels - Unchecked Growth Could See New Problems Offset Climate Gains, Report Says

In the News

England under water: scientists confirm global warming link to increased rain

Other News

Green Bloggers

Ecoshock Radio

Grist Magazine

Tree Hugger

Zerofootprint Blog

BBC – The Greenroom

New York Times – Environment



syam said...

Great Opinion! Biofuel is killer!
I would like to inform you that i've interested to translate this article to Indonesian for antubanyu|enviroMONSTER blog.

Cheryl McNamara said...

Thanks Syam. Feel free to translate this article.