A biofuels polemic from Huffington Post

If you are interested in the environmental impact of biofuels in the US check this polemic on the Huffington Post. Makes some good points about the end to end efficiency of biofuels in the automotive sector. You can’t comment on it there, so perhaps you’d like to do so here.

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4 Responses to A biofuels polemic from Huffington Post

  1. Pradeep 29 August, 2008 at 5:10 pm #

    I would say that the article promotes localized conversion of waste biomass/using sustainable farming practices. What it lacks for technical content, it makes up by putting forward emotional arguments. I think that the 0.03% efficiency number is a bit misleading. If we consider all fuels (CTL, gasoline, algal biodiesel) in a sunlight-wheels life cycle, I am sure the efficiencies that result will be pretty bad too.

    I have a couple of comments:

    1. While the concept of sustainable biodiesel alliance is laudable, the authors do not quantify what % of the US petroleum (gasoline/diesel/other) demand can be met using waste streams, and regenerative farming. PNNL’s biofuel program envisions similar local networks to make fuels by collecting the crop wastes. IMO, this works as long as there is some incentive for the farmers not to go “all in” and leave sustainable farming techniques aside.

    2. “The private car is not now nor can it ever be globally sustainable, so any fuel for private car use purporting sustainability is a priori an oxymoron.”
    I am for good public transportation, but if you live in the middle of nowhere (happens quite a lot in the USA), it is hard to find decent public transportation options. The drive from the town I live in to NY is about 4.5 hours, 2 years ago the Greyhound bus used to take 7-8 hours. Do you really want to save the world by taking the bus? Should the city dwellers drive less so that their rural cousins can drive more? Ultimately, it is up to the individuals to choose.

  2. Simon Robinson 1 September, 2008 at 10:23 am #

    HI Paradeep,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that the idea of taking the bus to save the planet, especially if it takes twice as long as the car, doesn’t take you to exactly where you want to go and is full of the Hell of other people, isn’t going to be a viable way forward. But then again moving into a suburb which is 50 miles across town each way to work isn’t any better. May be we need to just travel less in more efficient vehicles if we’re to make any kind of difference. That is easy to say, but what would it take for society to go down that road? Very expensive gasoline? Higher road taxes, more costly tyres… I don’ t know.

  3. Pradeep 2 September, 2008 at 6:00 am #

    “That is easy to say, but what would it take for society to go down that road? Very expensive gasoline? Higher road taxes, more costly tyres… I don’ t know.”

    May be a combination; something akin to the “perfect storm” will do the trick, sorry about the Gustav reference :-)

    I think carbon trading is one way to let the market decide how to lower CO2 emissions.

  4. Simon Robinson 2 September, 2008 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Pradeep,

    Carbon trading could work, but I’m not sure that the incremental cost of generating a kilo of carbon dioxide would be anything like big enough to make a difference. Perhaps if it were linked to the price of gasoline and set at a high level (effectively tax gasoline once more) that would work. But it would be very unpopular… that doesn’t make it wrong though.

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