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In its 2010 report card on the biofuels industry, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association says the questions about the sustainability of biofuels are “popular myths”. Examples are:

* Indirect land use change (ILUC). The myth: renewable fuels divert use of farm land in Canada and globally from food crops.

CFRA’s Myth Buster: The calculations for ILUC are faulty. Canada has plenty of land for farm and fallow land for food, fuel and fibre. No country’s agricultural production is at full capacity. For example, in the US, more than a quarter of the land is summer fallowed, in temporary pasture or idle. India fallows an area almost 65% of all of Canada’s cropland. “The world is greatly under-utilizing available crop lands.”
* Price increases due to biofuels. Myth: More ethanol means the price of grain including corn rises meaning the price of ethanol rises.

CFRA’s Myth Buster: Canada produces 50 million tonnes of grain a year (wheat, barley, corn, oats and rye) of which half is exported. If all gasoline used in Canada were to contain 10% ethanol , this would require 8-9 million tonnes leaving  grains for export. CFRA also predicts yield increases to 300 bushels per acre by 2010 compared to 112.3 bushels per acre in 1996 and 156 bushels per acre in 2008. Alternative feedstock such as municipal landfill waste, and energy crops which can be grown on marginal land such as switchgrass, camelina and sorghum, forestry and wood waste, and other forms of waste biomass will form an increasing percentage of our renewable fuel feedstocks and require less fossil fuel to produce and less land. New sources such as enzymes, yeast and bacteria to convert to cellulosic ethanol are in development.
* Biofuel subsidies Myth: Biofuels get too many subsidies.

CFRA’s Myth Buster: Government provides money for all kinds of energy initiatives. For example, governments have provided $3 billion for Hibernia, $14 billion for the Darlington nuclear plant and $44 billion for oil sands. Ethanol has received government subsidy of $1.5 billion in total over nine years. Globally the oil sector receives $500 billion of taxpayer money.
* Food vs fuel Myth: Biofuel crops replace food which is grown to feed the hungry and increase food prices for the poor.

CFRA’s Myth Buster: Food prices reached a peak in 2008 and then dropped again even though biofuel production increased. The world has more than twice the grains needed to feed the earth’s population. Policies are needed to improve food distribution, infrastructure, reduce corruption, and support local food policies. Better agricultural practices to increase yields and reduce negative impacts are required. Biofuels in developing countries could bring electricity from co-generation to the farms in developing countries. Rising grain prices reduce government subsidies in the US and other industrial countries allowing farmers in developing countries to compete.

For more information read the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association. Growing Beyond Oil: Delivering Our Energy Future: A Report Card on The Canadian Renewable Fuels Industry. Ottawa, Ontario: November 2010.

Source: Gallon Environment Letter

 

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