Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Biofuel Carbon Footprint Not As Big As Feared, New Analysis Finds

Date:
January 19, 2009
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Some researchers have blasted biofuels' potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions, calling into question the environmental benefits of making fuel from plant material. But a new analysis says these dire predictions are based on a set of assumptions that may not be correct.

Bruce Dale, MSU university distinguished professor of chemical engineering and materials science.
Credit: Image courtesy of Michigan State University

Publications ranging from the journal Science to Time magazine have blasted biofuels for significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, calling into question the environmental benefits of making fuel from plant material. But a new analysis by Michigan State University scientists says these dire predictions are based on a set of assumptions that may not be correct.

Related Articles


"Greenhouse gas release from changes in land use – growing crops that could be used for biofuels on previously unfarmed land – has been identified as a negative contributor to the environmental profile of biofuels," said Bruce Dale, MSU University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science. "Other analyses have estimated that it would take from 100 to 1,000 years before biofuels could overcome this 'carbon debt' and start providing greenhouse gas benefits."

But as Dale and his co-authors point out in their research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, earlier analyses didn't consider a number of variables that might influence the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels.

"Our analysis shows that crop management is a key factor in estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change associated with biofuels," Dale said. "Sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming and planting cover crops, can reduce the time it takes for biofuels to overcome the carbon debt to three years for grassland conversion and 14 years for temperate zone forest conversion."

The discrepancies between the time it will take biofuels to offer environmental benefits is due to the models used for each analysis, Dale explained.

"There are no real data on what actually happens as demand increases for land for biofuel production in one part of the world potentially leads to land clearing, because it is impossible to track these relationships in the real world," Dale said. "All the estimates are based on economic relationships and theoretical models with various data and assumptions. It's really one set of assumptions versus another set. The other scientists believe their assumptions are more reasonable, and we believe ours are more reasonable.

"How land is managed after it's converted to cropland is very important," Dale continued. "The authors of the Science paper assumed the worst-case scenario – plow tillage – which we don't think is accurate. The actual use of sustainable management practices – no till, reduced till and other approaches – is more than 50 percent and increasing."

Other paper authors are Seungdo Kim, MSU visiting associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and his son, Hyungtae Kim, a student atPhillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Dale and Seungdo Kim also are members of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, a partnership between Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct basic research aimed at solving some of the most complex problems in converting natural materials to energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kim et al. Biofuels, Land Use Change, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Some Unexplored Variables. Environmental Science & Technology, 2009; 0 (0): 090106151313093 DOI: 10.1021/es802681k

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Biofuel Carbon Footprint Not As Big As Feared, New Analysis Finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 January 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090115164641.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2009, January 19). Biofuel Carbon Footprint Not As Big As Feared, New Analysis Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090115164641.htm
Michigan State University. "Biofuel Carbon Footprint Not As Big As Feared, New Analysis Finds." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090115164641.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rare Clouds Fill Grand Canyon

Raw: Rare Clouds Fill Grand Canyon

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) For the second time in two months, a rare weather phenomenon filled the Grand Canyon with thick clouds just below the rim on Wednesday. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Senate Passes Bill for Keystone XL Pipeline

Senate Passes Bill for Keystone XL Pipeline

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) The Republican-controlled Senate has passed a bipartisan bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

"Cloud Inversion" In Grand Canyon

Reuters - US Online Video (Jan. 29, 2015) Time lapse video captures a blanket of clouds amassing in the Grand Canyon -- the result of a rare meteorological process called "cloud inversion." Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Why Researchers Say We Should Cut Back On Biofuels

Newsy (Jan. 29, 2015) Biofuels aren&apos;t the best alternative to fossil fuels, according to a new report. In fact, they&apos;re quite a bad one. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins