by Staff Writers
Ann Arbor MI (SPX) Aug 29, 2016
A new study from University of Michigan researchers challenges the widely held assumption that biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are inherently carbon neutral. Contrary to popular belief, the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas emitted when biofuels are burned is not fully balanced by the CO2 uptake that occurs as the plants grow, according to a study by research professor John DeCicco and co-authors at the U-M Energy Institute.
The study, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture crop-production data, shows that during the period when U.S. biofuel production rapidly ramped up, the increased carbon dioxide uptake by the crops was only enough to offset 37 percent of the CO2 emissions due to biofuel combustion.
The researchers conclude that rising biofuel use has been associated with a net increase--rather than a net decrease, as many have claimed--in the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. The findings are scheduled to be published online Aug. 25 in the journal Climatic Change.
"This is the first study to carefully examine the carbon on farmland when biofuels are grown, instead of just making assumptions about it," DeCicco said. "When you look at what's actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what's coming out of the tailpipe."
The use of biofuels to displace petroleum has expanded over the last decade in response to policies, such as the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, that promote their use for transportation. Consumption of liquid biofuels--mainly corn ethanol and biodiesel--has grown in the United States from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013.
The environmental justification rests on the assumption that biofuels, as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, are inherently carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide released when they are burned was derived from CO2 that the growing corn or soybean plants pulled from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
That assumption is embedded in the carbon footprint models used to justify and administer policies such as the federal RFS and the California Low-Carbon Fuel Standard. The models, which are based on a technique called lifecycle analysis, have often found that crop-based biofuels offer at least modest net greenhouse gas reductions relative to petroleum fuels.
Instead of modeling the emissions, DeCicco and his colleagues analyzed real-world data on crop production, biofuel production, fossil fuel production and vehicle emissions--without presuming that that biofuels are carbon neutral. Their empirical work reached a striking conclusion.
"When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline," DeCicco said. "So the underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect.
"Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels. This issue has been debated for many years. What's new here is that hard data, straight from America's croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet."
The Climatic Change paper is titled "Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use."
University of Michigan
Bio Fuel Technology and Application News
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement|