Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Environmental benefit of biofuels is overestimated, new study reveals

Date:
June 8, 2012
Source:
Wiley-Blackwell
Summary:
Two scientists are challenging the currently accepted norms of biofuel production. Calculations of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions from bioenergy production are neglecting crucial information that has led to the overestimation of the benefits of biofuels compared to fossil fuels, a new analysis shows.

Two scientists are challenging the currently accepted norms of biofuel production. A recent commentary published in GCB Bioenergy reveals that calculations of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions from bioenergy production are neglecting crucial information that has led to the overestimation of the benefits of biofuels compared to fossil fuels.

Related Articles


The critique extends to the Life Cycle Analysis models of bioenergy production. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a technique used to measure and compile all factors relating to the production, usage, and disposal of a fuel or product. The authors conclude that LCAs are overestimating the positive aspects of biofuel use versus fossil fuel use by omitting the emission of CO2 by vehicles that use ethanol and biodiesel even when there is no valid justification.

Proponents of bioenergy argue that analyses should always ignore this CO2 because plants grown for biofuel absorb and therefore offset the same amount of carbon that is emitted by refining and combusting the fuel. The commentary critiques this method by arguing that doing so double counts the carbon absorbed by plants when the bioenergy crops are grown on land already used for crop production or already growing other plants because the bioenergy does not necessarily result in additional carbon absorption. Biofuels can only reduce greenhouse gases if they result in additional plant growth, or if they in effect generate additional useable biomass by capturing waste material that would otherwise decompose anyway.

The overestimation of bioenergy LCAs becomes increasingly magnified when the omission of CO2 is combined with the underestimation of nitrogen emissions from fertilizer application. According to lead author Dr. Keith Smith, from the University of Edinburgh, "Emissions of N2O from the soil make a large contribution to the global warming associated with crop production because each kilogram of N2O emitted to the atmosphere has about the same effect as 300kg of CO2." He notes that several current LCAs underestimate the percentage of nitrogen fertilizer application that is actually emitted to the atmosphere as a GHG. The authors claim that the observed increase in atmospheric N2O shows that this percentage is in reality nearly double the values used in the LCAs, which greatly changes their outcome.

Since results of the LCAs have been widely utilized, Searchinger and Smith conclude that the overall development and research of alternative fuels has been heading in the wrong direction. "The best opportunity to make beneficial biofuels is to use waste material or to focus on relatively wet but highly degraded land," notes Dr. Smith. If bioenergy crops are produced on degraded land, less GHGs will be emitted and more will be stored. There are additional benefits: this method will not compete with crop production for food, textiles, and other products.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Keith A. Smith, Timothy D. Searchinger. Crop-based biofuels and associated environmental concerns. GCB Bioenergy, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2012.01182.x

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "Environmental benefit of biofuels is overestimated, new study reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120608100548.htm>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2012, June 8). Environmental benefit of biofuels is overestimated, new study reveals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120608100548.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. "Environmental benefit of biofuels is overestimated, new study reveals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120608100548.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. 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