Home Emergency Management News Biofuels vs. Fossil Fuels: New Study Heats Up Climate Debate

Biofuels vs. Fossil Fuels: New Study Heats Up Climate Debate

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New Study Says Biofuels Worse Than Fossil Fuels for GHG

A new study released by the University of Michigan's Energy Institute analyzed the net increase in carbon emissions by clean biofuels. The study has sparked strong reactions and heated debate between biofuel and fossil fuel advocates.

In the push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, biofuels have been touted as a clean option, and one that had a net decrease in carbon emissions. The new study, however, found that instead of a net decrease, there appears to be a net increase in the amount of carbon emissions with the production and burning of biofuel over fossil fuels that is not offset through crop growth, as has been traditionally expressed.

In order to study the effects of biofuels, researchers looked at all the processes involved in biofuel, from the changes in land use, to crop growth, production, and transportation, and finally emissions from vehicles. The study found that when everything was taken into account, a net increase in the amount of carbon emitted from biofuels appeared to occur.  

So, according to the study, biofuel emissions are adding to the dangerously high heat trapping gases that are already in the atmosphere that are believed to play a part in extreme weather patterns, thawing permafrost, glacier and sea ice melt, and stronger weather systems.

Net Increase in Carbon Emissions

The leader of the study, John DeCicco, noted that the research revealed that just a mere 37 percent of biofuel pollution was absorbed by the additional crop growth associated with the production of these biofuels. This means that the remaining emissions are spewed into the atmosphere as heat trapping gases.

DeCicco's research directly challenged scientists' work from the traditional life cycle analysis studies first used to determine the benefits of biofuels, who disagree strongly with DeCicco's findings. Life cycle analysis assumes that crops growing throughout the world absorb the emissions from biofuels, and scientists who used this method found fault with DeCicco's study, noting that he only focused on crops grown in America and did not allow for the time needed for the accrual of benefits.

DeCicco believes caution is necessary "regarding the role of biofuels in climate mitigation" and that the full impacts of biofuel on global greenhouse gases is, as of yet, undetermined.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.