“Green” biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are in fact worse for the environment that petrol, a landmark new study has found.
The alternative energy source has long been praised for being carbon-neutral because the plants it is made from absorb carbon dioxide, which causes global warming, from the atmosphere while they are growing.
But new research in the US has found that the crops used for biofuel absorb only 37 per cent of the C02 that is later released into the atmosphere when the plants are burnt, meaning the process actually increases the amount of greenhouse gas in the air.
The scientists behind the study have called on governments to rethink their carbon policies in light of the findings.
The use of biofuels is controversial because it means crops and farm space that could otherwise be devoted to food production are in fact used for energy.
They currently make up just under 3 per cent of global energy consumption, and use in the US grew from 4.2 billion gallons a year in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons a year in 2013.
In the UK the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation now means that 4.75 per cent of any suppliers’ fuel comes from a renewable source, which is usually ethanol derived from crops.
Professor John DeCicco, from the University of Michigan, said his research was the first to carefully examine the carbon on farmland where biofuels are grown.
“When you look at what’s actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what’s coming out of the tailpipe,” he said.
“When it comes to the emissions that cause global warming, it turns out that biofuels are worse than gasoline.”
Professor DeCicco said the study, which is published in the journal Climatic Change, reset the assumptions, that biofuels, as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, are inherently carbon neutral simply because the C02 released when burned was originally absorbed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
The carbon footprint policies of many advanced countries assume that crop-based biofuels offer at the very least modest net greenhouse gas reductions relative to petroleum fuels.
However, the scientists from Michigan ignored the prevailing models and analysed real data on crop production, biofuel production, fossil fuel production and vehicle emissions.
“The underpinnings of policies used to promote biofuels for reasons of climate have now been proven to be scientifically incorrect,” said Professor DeCicco.
“Policymakers should reconsider their support for biofuels.
“This issue has been debated for many years; what’s new here is that hard data, straight from America’s croplands, now confirm the worst fears about the harm that biofuels do to the planet.”
Last month the UK Government said it would press ahead with plans to meet EU renewable energy targets despite the Brexit vote.
This will require Britain to generate at least 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Transport ministers also said it was “very likely” Britain would introduce a new kind of petrol called E10, which is made up of a higher proportion of biofuels than current fuel, in order to meet a target requiring 10 per cent of transport energy to be renewable.
By Henry Bodkin
Source: The Telegraph
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