Monday, February 18, 2008

Biofuels Clean After All?

Take that, science: biofuels are clean after all?

The Wall Street Journal (Environmental Capital Blog), Keith Johnson


Like a Federer-Nadal rally, the biofuels debate never ends. The latest volley comes from longtime ethanol researcher Michael Wang, who slams last week’s Science magazine study saying biofuels could be twice as dirty as fossil fuels.

In a letter to Sciencexpress, which published the original article, Dr. Wang, of the Argonne National Laboratory, and Dept. of Energy colleague Zia Haq take issue with the Science study, which sought to explore how using more land for growing biofuels could end up spewing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Far from making global warming worse, Wang and Haq argue that biofuels can provide a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels:

On the basis of our own analyses, production of corn-based ethanol in the United States so far results in moderate GHG emissions reductions. There has also been no indication that U.S. corn ethanol production has so far caused indirect land use changes in other countries…

Several other academics also took aim this week at the Science study’s conclusions. Wang and Haq take issue with loads of technical aspects of the Science study, lead-authored by Timothy Searchinger. They say the study used outdated models, misguided estimates of U.S. ethanol production, erroneous crop yield estimates, and faulty scenarios for future deforestation.

In the scientific equivalent of a glove-slap across the cheek, Wang and Haq conclude:

While scientific assessment of land use change issues is urgently needed in order to design policies that prevent unintended consequences from biofuel production, conclusions regarding the GHG emissions effects of biofuels based on speculative, limited land use change modeling may misguide biofuel policy development.

So does that mean the recent U.S. biofuel mandate is a good idea after all?

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