A group of researchers, many from Princeton University, say that biofuels can solve many of the problems related to non-renewable fossil fuels… without creating more problems of their own.
This article from Princeton says the key is making the green fuels from sustainable sources:
“The world needs to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent research findings have thrown the emerging biofuels industry into a quandary,” said David Tilman of the University of Minnesota, a noted ecologist and lead author of the paper. “We met to seek solutions. We found that the next generation of biofuels can be highly beneficial if produced properly.”
The paper coincides with climate change policy debates in the U.S. Congress and tackles land use issues that have generated much controversy in recent years. Specifically, it addresses concerns that clearing land to grow biofuel crops or to grow food crops displaced by biofuel crops can release more greenhouse gases than petroleum use. Titled “Beneficial Biofuels — The Food, Energy and Environment Trilemma,” the paper will appear in the July 17 issue of the journal Science.
Robert Socolow, a Princeton professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said that through careful scientific reasoning the authors of the paper discovered accounting rules to determine which strategies for generating biofuels were promising and which were not.
“It is essential that legislation take the best science into account, even when that requires acknowledging and undoing earlier mistakes,” Socolow said. “Future carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will tell us when we’re kidding ourselves about what actually works. For carbon management, the atmosphere is the ultimate accountant.”
The article goes on to say that to balance biofuel production and food issues, biodiesel and ethanol makers need to focus on five major sources of renewable biomass, including perennial plants grown on degraded lands abandoned from agricultural use, crop residues, sustainably harvested wood and forest residues, double crops and mixed cropping systems, and municipal and industrial wastes. These sources could meet a significant amount of the U.S. demand for transportation fuels.