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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 warming. Writing in "Use of US croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions for Land Use or Change," Timothy Searchinger and many others state: "To produce more biofuels, farmers can directly plow up more forest or grassland, which releases to the atmosphere much of the carbon previously stored in plants and soils through decomposition or fire.
The problem is that in order to grow more of the lucrative crop, environmental groups fear Indonesia will clear rainforest land. Earlier this year, Indonesia's government tossed plans to develop the world's largest palm oil plantation -- nearly 2 million hectars -- by clearing one of the most diverse rainforest areas in the world only after it was proven that much of the proposed area was too high and steep for cultivation. But in order to supply just 1 percent of the EU's fuel needs, a 3 million hectar plantation
would be required, according to a new study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
A new study suggests that biodiesel could increase rather than reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to petrol diesel.EU legislation which promotes the adoption of biodiesel will not make a difference to global warming, according to a new study reported in the Chemistry & Industry magazine.
In case you didn’t know, the “dead zone” isn’t just a novel by Steven King or an old TV show, it’s an area about the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico that during the summer months is incapable of supporting sea life. The dead zone is created when fertilizer run off promote algae growth, which in turn throws off the oceans equilibrium by using all the available oxygen, killing everything else. So, good for algae perhaps, but bad for the sea life in general.
Through research performed at Cornell University, we know that 1 acre of land can yield about 7,110 pounds (3,225 kg) of corn, which can be processed into 328 gallons (1240.61 liters) of ethanol. That is about 26.1 pounds (11.84 kg) of corn per gallon.
The final cost of the fuel-grade ethanol is about $1.74 per gallon. (Of course, a lot of variables go into that number.) The average price for a gallon of gas in the United States is about $1.40 as of August 9, 2001, according to GasPriceWatch.com.
The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year
Switchgrass can be cut and baled with conventional mowers and balers. And it's a hardy, adaptable perennial, so once it's established in a field, it can be harvested as a cash crop, either annually or semiannually, for 10 years or more before replanting is needed. And because it has multiple uses—as an ethanol feedstock, as forage, as ground cover—a farmer who plants switchgrass can be confident knowing that a switchgrass crop will be put to good use.
Looking down the road, McLaughlin believes switchgrass offers important advantages as an energy crop. "Producing ethanol from corn requires almost as much energy to produce as it yields," he explains, "while ethanol from switchgrass can produce about five times more energy than you put in. When you factor in the energy required to make tractors, transport farm equipment, plant and harvest, and so on, the net energy output of switchgrass is about 20 times better than corn's." Switchgrass also does a far better job of protecting soil, virtually eliminating erosion. And it removes considerably more CO2 from the air, packing it away in soils and roots.
Many farmers are already experienced at raising switchgrass for forage or to protect soil from erosion. Besides showing great promise for energy production, switchgrass also restores vital organic nutrients to farmed-out soils.