Biofuel carbon footprint not as big as feared

January 16th, 2009 - 3:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 16 (ANI): A new analysis by scientists has determined that assumptions about biofuels significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions may not be correct.

Many researchers have blasted biofuels for significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, calling into question the environmental benefits of making fuel from plant material.

But, an analysis by Michigan State University (MSU) scientists says these dire predictions are based on a set of assumptions that may not be correct.

Greenhouse gas release from changes in land use growing crops that could be used for biofuels on previously unfarmed land has been identified as a negative contributor to the environmental profile of biofuels, said Bruce Dale, MSU University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science.

Other analyses have estimated that it would take from 100 to 1,000 years before biofuels could overcome this carbon debt and start providing greenhouse gas benefits, he added.

But, as Dale and his co-authors point out in their research, earlier analyses didnt consider a number of variables that might influence the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels.

Our analysis shows that crop management is a key factor in estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change associated with biofuels, Dale said.

Sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming and planting cover crops, can reduce the time it takes for biofuels to overcome the carbon debt to three years for grassland conversion and 14 years for temperate zone forest conversion, he added.

The discrepancies between the time it will take biofuels to offer environmental benefits is due to the models used for each analysis, Dale explained.

According to Dale, There are no real data on what actually happens as demand increases for land for biofuel production in one part of the world potentially leads to land clearing, because it is impossible to track these relationships in the real world.

All the estimates are based on economic relationships and theoretical models with various data and assumptions. Its really one set of assumptions versus another set. The other scientists believe their assumptions are more reasonable, and we believe ours are more reasonable, he added. (ANI)

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