June 14, 2008
Corn-Based Ethanol Damages Environment
BIOFUELS Biofuels widely are considered one of the most promising sources of renewable energy by policymakers and environmentalists alike. However, unless principles and standards for production are developed and implemented, certain biofuels will cause severe environmental impacts and reduce biodiversity-the very opposite of what is desired, according to a study published by the Society for Conservation Biology, Bothell, Wash., which qualitatively contrasts major potential sources of biofuels, including corn, grasses, fast- growing trees, and oil crops. It highlights their relative impacts on the environment in terms of water and fertilizer use and other criteria to calculate the environmental footprint of each crop.
Corn-based ethanol currently is the most widely used biofuel in the U.S., but it is the most environmentally damaging among crop- based energy sources. "The central goals of any biofuel policy must minimize risks to biodiversity and to our climate," maintains lead author Martha Groom of the University of Washington, Seattle. She recommends the further use of algae and fast-growing trees as biofuel sources because they yield more fuel per acre than any feedstocks currently being pursued.
The study also recommends a number of major principles for governing the development of environmentally friendly biofuels. Feedstocks should be grown according to sustainable and environmentally safe agricultural practices, with minimal ecological footprints (the area of land required to grow and support sufficient amounts of the crop). In particular, emphasis should be placed on biofuels that can sequester carbon or have a negative or zero carbon balance.
"While some biofuels may be an improvement over traditional fuels, we believe we should focus much more on the biofuels of the future that can be developed in small spaces, rather than so extensively on croplands," proposes Groom. "We also must shun biofuels that are grown by clearing biologically-rich habitats, such as tropical rain forests, as has occurred with oil palm and some other biofuels."
Copyright Society for Advancement of Education Jun 2008
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