By on August 17, 2007

157716main_forest_burning_lg_4.jpgA new study that concludes that rainforests absorb more CO2 than can be saved by clearing the land for biofuel crops. Razing rainforests for bio-fuels? Surely not! Uh-huh. U.S. and European government legislation mandating huge increases in ethanol consumption is already amping-up ethanol production in developing countries. Wired Science reports "In Indonesia, for example, environmentalists estimate that foreign biofuel demand will drive energy companies to clear the country's remaining peat rainforests, a valuable CO2 sink. The resulting slash-and-burn could release 50 billion tons of CO2 — nearly a decade's worth of US greenhouse emissions — into the atmosphere." Renton Rightelato, co-author of the aforementioned study, said the West's focus on biofuels distracts its citizenry from the real problem. "People feel they're saving the planet [by encouraging bio-fuels]. They're not. Biofuels are essentially being used as a way of avoiding the real problem: reducing the use of fossil fuels." Doh!

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18 Comments on “Bio-Fuels Boondoggle Backfires, Badly...”


  • avatar

    Madness, absolute madness.
    Bio-fuels are comparable to pissing in your pants to keep warm in mid-winter, and as the above shows (as do a lot of other negatives) we should pull the brakes on this solution.

    Politicians are afraid of telling people the truth, and are desperately seeking alternatives that will make it possible to avoid forcing reality upon their voters:
    100 cushy years of motive energy abundance are coming to an end, and fast — and since our societies are built upon the availability of cheap motive energy, we are headed for some serious transformations, and the politicians do not want to own up, since doing so will saddle them with the blame: why didn’t you foresee this?

    The solution isn’t bio-fuels (which must be ranked as the most hare-brained proposal yet, even outdoing the speedy gonzales Tesla Roadster). The real solution lies in restructuring our transportation from the ground up – there’s tremendous profit opportunities in this, and Detroit could leap a generation if it was willing to start facing the future, and stopped applying the solutions of the past.

    We once went from horse and buggy to personal transport with internal combustion engine automobiles; now we have to accept a give-and-take when it comes to where and how we can enjoy that kind of personal transport freedom, and where we’re going to have to accept more energy efficient, collective solutions for travel over longer distances.

    And this isn’t a “you’ll have to wrest my car keys from my cold dead fingers” thing. Reality is coming at us and will strike with the force of hard granite.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    Insensitive? How can you say that? When I sank everything I had into buying that 1,000 acres of Brazilian rainforest.

    Then I had it slashed and burned so we could build our dream house.

    Insensitive? Do you know how hard it is to displace an entire tribe? You try it sometime!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “Orang-utans home destroyed for bio-diesel” by Thomas Bell in Central Borneo at Telegraph.com on 14/08/2007:

    As jungles are rapidly replaced by palm oil plantations, the great apes starve and are hunted, mutilated, burnt and snared by workers protecting their crops. At a rehabilitation centre run by the charity Borneo Orang-utan Survival, there are more than 600, mostly orphaned babies. …

    “The plantation workers beat them because they want to catch them and the only way you can catch an orang-utan is to knock it unconscious.”

    … In 2004 there were 37,000 living on Borneo and the only other wild population is around 7,000 on the neighbouring island of Sumatra. The palm oil crisis struck central Borneo in 2003, shortly after the Indonesian government declared it wanted to become the world’s biggest producer.

    In 2004 a “master plan” was unveiled to create 40,000 square miles of plantations by 2010. Campaigners say 70 per cent of the plantations will replace existing forests. …

    With the world desperate for “green” fuels, demand for palm oil, which is used in bio-diesel, is guaranteed to increase. According to European legislation two per cent of all diesel must be vegetable oil, rising to 5.7 per cent in 2010 and 10 per cent by 2020.

    But in the areas where palm oil is produced, environmental concerns barely register with government authorities or the companies they licence. Global prices are rising and there is big money at stake. …

  • avatar
    lewissalem

    “Bio-fuels are comparable to pissing in your pants to keep warm in mid-winter”

    -Stein X Leikanger

    Nice!

    I think the average consumer needs to be aware so we can expose this biofuel hoopla for what it is, a PR stunt. As soon as the price of Virginia Lighting doubles, Bubba ain’t gonna fill the ol’ Ford with e85.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    I nominate Stein X Leikanger to testify before Congress next time the discuss (their hare-brained version of) Energy legislation.

    The bio-fuels thing is not that simple, though. As I see it, there are three potential sources of feedstock for making biofuels:
    1. Food crops.
    2. Non-food crops.
    3. Waste.

    Looking at that list, where should we be starting? Thanks to our leadership politicains we are starting at the opposite end of the list. Your tax dollars at work!

    Oh, and yes, there actually are technologies out there that do the waste->fuel thing. The German company CHOREN is building a ~4,500 bbl/d plant in Freiberg. Cool animation, too. In Cartage, MO there is a 500 bbl/d plant that converts the inedible parts of turkeys into diesel (not biodiesel with its inferior properties, especially at low temparatures, the real McCoy). Unfortunately, the company selling the technology over-promised and under-delivered. But it remains a great showpiece of what can be done (right here in the US of A), without Uncle Sam’s help. Great proof of concept.

    Even the evil maniacs at Big Oil wants a piece of this. But the Dems won’t have any of that – go figure. I guess we can’t allow Big Oil to redeem itself – who are we going to blame when gas goes to $4/gal?

    Unfortunately the politicians are only interested in following the easy votes that goes with corn subsidies (see the renewal of ag subsidies and Nancy’s almost reform of it).

  • avatar

    @Engineer

    The bio-fuels thing is not that simple, though. As I see it, there are three potential sources of feedstock for making biofuels:
    1. Food crops.
    2. Non-food crops.
    3. Waste.

    Completely agree, we’ve got hold of the wrong end – but it’s what was politically expedient. Politicians buying votes by placating powerful lobbies who’re always on the lookout for farming subsidies. With increasing limitations enforced through WTO agreements it’s become harder and harder to transfer federal monies as farming subsidies. But by showing to the need to develop alternative fuels, in view of the potential disruptions of a peak oil scenario, all limits are off here. Voters should be outraged, but we’re being conned by our willingness to do “what’s good for the environment” and on the surface bio-fuels seem like “have your cake and eat it too.”

    Yes, there are substances that can be converted into fuel, from non food crops, wood chips, etc. Waste management processes can contribute significantly. They’re there, ready for the taking.

    Yet we should always ask: are we getting substantially more caloric energy out of it than we consumed in the making?

    As I wrote above, the business opportunities here are staggering, in a multitude of areas – and Detroit could vindicate itself by advancing serious proposals as to how the infrastructure must be changed to accommodate an energy lean future.

    I see ourselves having to approach energy consumption for automotion with the same keen eye that rocket engineers apply to their designs. Every single calorie is accounted for, and there for a purpose — and the shell of the rocket is whittled to the bone, to do exactly what it is supposed to do. (The side panels of the large Saturn rockets were wafer thin, yet had the structural integrity required of them.)

    If the moon shot rockets had been built the way we build cars they would never have gotten off the pad.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    I thought this was old news. It’s intuitive, anyway – the “burn” part of “slash and burn” is absolutely terrible, and you’re never going to get a denser form of carbon sequestration than those trees. Which aren’t that good for use in wood products. And are good for finding medicines in, and for rain.

  • avatar
    Hippo

    What no one will mention is that the people that get the tax subsidies could care less if the world burns.
    And they hold primaries there.

  • avatar
    Jeff in NH

    Stein has it right…in the medium-term future (15-30 years hence) energy for personal mobility will still be available, but only affordable to the wealthiest classes in society. No more universal freedom to move about at will to wherever one’s heart may desire. Either the politicians make courageous decisions at the expense of their career longevity, or North America is going to devolve into one hell of an angry, resentful, and exceedingly violent place. Those courageous decisions include strategic investments in sustainable long-distance rail, and more importantly, a complete revision of urban planning to ensure home and work are within walking or cycling distance, with all the pedestrian-oriented infrastructure that goes along with it.

  • avatar
    68stang

    We are reaching the tipping point pretty fast here. People are expecting to just go to the same gas station and fill up whatever type of vehicle they’re driving now with bio-fuel and have a clean conscience. But its not going to be that simple. I’m lucky enough to live in a rainforest region (BC) and nothing good can come from cutting down these types of trees.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    No more universal freedom to move about at will to wherever one’s heart may desire.
    Oh the freedom will still be there. It’s just that at $10/gal you’d be a lot more selective in how you use it.

    Prepare to get smacked by the invisible hand.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Burning your food for fuel is rarely a smart idea, yet that is exactly what the present ethanol craze amounts to.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I see the invisible hand of ADM here — the next ill-advised headlong rush to short-term profits will leave its mark, and divert us from the true solutions (once again).

  • avatar
    MX5bob

    The sheer lunacy of destroying a biosphere to create farms to produce something that will then be burned as a fuel defies all reason.

  • avatar

    @MX5bob

    For sheer lunacy, consider an abbreviated list of products made with petroleum. Right now, we’re burning that resource in an extremely inefficient manner, to pick up grocery.

    Products Made from Oil

    Ink Dishwashing liquids Paint brushes Telephones
    Toys Unbreakable dishes Insecticides Antiseptics
    Dolls Car sound insulation Fishing lures Deodorant
    Tires Motorcycle helmets Linoleum Sweaters
    Tents Refrigerator linings Paint rollers Floor wax
    Shoes Electrician’s tape Plastic wood Model cars
    Glue Roller-skate wheels Trash bags Soap dishes
    Skis Permanent press clothes Hand lotion Clothesline
    Dyes Soft contact lenses Shampoo Panty hose
    Cameras Food preservatives Fishing rods Oil filters
    Combs Transparent tape Anesthetics Upholstery
    Dice Disposable diapers TV cabinets Cassettes
    Mops Sports car bodies Salad bowls House paint
    Purses Electric blankets Awnings Ammonia
    Dresses Car battery cases Safety glass Hair curlers
    Pajamas Synthetic rubber VCR tapes Eyeglasses
    Pillows Vitamin capsules Movie film Ice chests
    Candles Rubbing alcohol Loudspeakers Ice buckets
    Boats Ice cube trays Credit cards Fertilizers
    Crayons Insect repellent Water pipes Toilet seats
    Caulking Roofing shingles Fishing boots Life jackets
    Balloons Shower curtains Garden hose Golf balls
    Curtains Plywood adhesive Umbrellas Detergents
    Milk jugs Beach umbrellas Rubber cement Sun glasses
    Putty Faucet washers Cold cream Bandages
    Tool racks Antihistamines Hair coloring Nail polish
    Slacks Drinking cups Guitar strings False teeth
    Yarn Petroleum jelly Toothpaste Golf bags
    Roofing Tennis rackets Toothbrushes Perfume
    Luggage Wire insulation Folding doors Shoe polish
    Fan belts Ballpoint pens Shower doors Cortisone
    Carpeting Artificial turf Heart valves LP records
    Lipstick Artificial limbs Hearing aids Vaporizers
    Aspirin Shaving cream Wading pools Parachutes

  • avatar
    dean

    97escort: You do realize, of course, that this is a news blog item, and RF is quoting another source?

    Please allow us, the readers, to crap all over biofuel production. You needn’t target this site. Anyone with half a brain, and a rudimentary understanding of energy ROI, knows that at present, and for the foreseeable future, biofuels are a subsidized waste of energy.

  • avatar
    dean

    And one more thing. Of course biofuels are popular in the midwest. Everyone there is getting rich planting corn at subsidized prices! Talk about biting the hand that feeds… of course they’re on board with it.

  • avatar
    fallout11

    Classic tragedy of the commons unfolding before our eyes yet again…..internalizes and privatize the benefits, externalize and socialize the costs.
    “We had to destroy the village to save it.”

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