U.S. biofuels are authorized to help farmers, but they do little harm to energy security and the environment
If Yves comes, sometimes readers will include biofuels on the list that can slow the rate of climate change. This article reminds people why this is not the case. The only exception source we know of is sugar cane, and only sugar cane grown in Brazil. If the reader knows any other examples, please add.
Author: John DeCicco, Professor Emeritus of Research at the University of Michigan.Originally published on dialogue
If you have pumped gas at a gas station in the United States in the past ten years, you have already added biofuel to the tank.Thanks federation Renewable Fuel StandardOr RFS, almost all gasoline sold nationwide requires 10% ethanol-a fuel made from plant sources (mainly corn).
With the recent increase in gasoline prices, the biofuel lobby is eager to Raise the goal to 15% or moreAt the same time, some policymakers are calling for reforms.For example, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators proposed a bill that would Cancel the corn ethanol part of the mission.
The RFS promulgated after the September 11, 2001 attacks pledged to strengthen energy security, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and increase incomes in rural America. The plan did increase the profits of some agricultural industries, but in my opinion, it failed to deliver on other promises. In fact, the research of some scientists, including me, Found that the use of biofuels so far has increased rather than reduced carbon dioxide emissions.
The current law sets a goal of 36 billion gallons of biofuel produced and used by 2022, as part of the approximately 200 billion gallons of auto fuel burned annually by motor vehicles in the United States.As of 2019, drivers are using Only 20 billion gallons Annual renewable fuels-mainly corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel. Due to the pandemic, usage and most energy usage have fallen in 2020. Although the 2021 statistics have not yet been completed, the plan is still far from reaching the 36 billion gallon goal. I believe that the time to abolish RFS is ripe, or at least significantly reduced.
Higher profits for many farmers
The most obvious success of RFS is to increase the income of corn and soybean farmers and related agricultural companies. It has also established a large-scale domestic biofuel industry.
this Renewable Fuel Association, A trade organization in the biofuel industry, estimates that RFS has Created more than 300,000 jobsLast few years. Two-thirds of these jobs are in the states with the largest ethanol production: Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and South Dakota.Given the key role of Iowa in the presidential primaries, most aspiring politicians of the country believe Embrace biofuels.
RFS replaced a small amount of oil and transferred some revenue from the oil industry to agribusiness.Nevertheless, the contribution of biofuels to U.S. energy security pales in comparison with the contribution of biofuels to U.S. energy security Expand domestic oil production through hydraulic fracturing ——This will of course cause serious environmental damage.Composition using ethanol in fuel Other risks, Include Damage small engines with Higher fuel gas emissions.
For consumers, the use of biofuels has Many changes, but the overall impact is small Regarding the price of the pump. Renewable fuel policy has little influence in the world oil market. In the world oil market, the impact of the penny level authorized by biofuels cannot be compared with the fluctuation of the dollar scale of oil.
— Farm Policy (@FarmPolicy) November 24, 2021
Biofuels are not carbon neutral
The idea that biofuels are good for the environment is based on the assumption that they are essentially carbon neutral-this means that the carbon dioxide emitted when biofuels are burned is completely offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by raw materials such as corn and soybeans during the growth process. This assumption is coded into the computer model used to evaluate the fuel.
Before passing the RFS, this model found a modest reduction in CO2 Corn ethanol with Soy Biodiesel. It promises from Cellulosic Ethanol – A more advanced biofuel made from non-food sources, such as crop residues and energy crops such as willow and switchgrass.
But subsequent research showed that Biofuels are not actually carbon neutralCorrecting this error by assessing real-world changes in carbon uptake in farmland indicates that the use of biofuels has CO2 emissions increase.
An important factor is that the production of biofuels will amplify changes in land use. Since the harvest is no longer used to feed humans and livestock to produce fuel, additional farmland is needed to compensate.this means Deforested with The prairie is cultivated Opening up new land for crop production has caused very large carbon dioxide emissions.
Expanding farmland for biofuel production is also harmful to the environment in other ways.Research shows that it has Reduce the abundance and diversity of plants and animals in the world. In the United States, it amplifies other adverse effects of industrialized agriculture, such as Nutrient loss and water pollution.
The failure of cellulosic ethanol
When Congress expanded the biofuel authorization in 2007, a key factor that prompted legislators in states outside the Midwest to support it was the belief that the next generation of cellulosic ethanol would produce greater environmental, energy, and economic benefits.Proponents of biofuels claim that cellulosic fuel is Close to becoming commercially viable.
Nearly 15 years later, despite authorization and billions of dollars in federal support, Cellulosic ethanol has failedThe total production of liquid cellulosic biofuels has recently hovered 10 million gallons per year – RFS requires a small portion of 16 billion gallons to be produced in 2022. Facts have proved that the technical challenges are more daunting than the supporters claim.
From an environmental point of view, I think cellulose failure is a relief.If this technology succeeds, I believe it may trigger a more aggressive global expansion Industrialized agriculture – Only grow one or two crops and rely on highly mechanized methods and large farms that use a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.Some of these risks still exist because refiners invest in Biodiesel production And manufacturers to transform corn ethanol facilities to Producing bio-jet fuel.
Rippling effects on the land and indigenous people
Today, the vast majority of biofuels are made from crops such as corn and soybeans, which are also used in food and animal feed. The global market for major commodity crops is closely linked, so the increased demand for biofuel production has pushed up global prices.
This price pressure Increase deforestation with Plunder the land At the following locations Brazil arrive Thailand. Renewable fuel standards are therefore intensified Displacement of indigenous communities, Destruction of peatlands And similar hazards at the frontiers of agriculture worldwide, mainly in developing countries.
Some researchers have found that the adverse effects of biofuel production on land use, crop prices and climate are Much smaller than previously estimated. Nevertheless, the Uncertainty of land use change The net impact on carbon dioxide emissions is huge. Complex models of biofuel-related commodity markets and land use cannot be verified because it can infer global and future impacts.
Compared with biofuels, a better way to solve transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions is to increase efficiency, especially Improve the fuel economy of gasoline vehiclesAnd electric cars continue to move forward.
What conclusions can we draw from the 16 years of RFS? In my opinion, two of its three policy pillars are now quite unstable: its energy security reasons are largely meaningless, and its climate reasons have been proven wrong.
Nevertheless, major agricultural interest groups strongly support the plan and may support it indefinitely.In fact, as some commentators have observed, the biofuel mission has become another Rights of agribusinessTaxpayers may have to pay a high price in a transaction to abolish RFS. For the earth, this is a price worth paying.