August 24, 2012

6 Myths about Biofuel

Have you ever thought about switching to biofuel for your car? Well maybe you need a little education in what biofuel actually is.

Myth #1. "Biofuel can be used in any car."

Biofuel is actually "Biodiesel", which means you will need a car which runs on diesel. Diesel vehicles make up a small percentage of the market and most automotive manufacturers don't make diesel versions of their cars.

Myth #2. "Biofuel is green."

Do you know how an internal combustion engine works? It burns the fuel. Ignites it using a spark and the tiny explosion pushes pistons, etc... The point is that it BURNS the fuel and creates carbon dioxide. There is nothing "green" about burning fuels.

Myth #3. "Biofuel is cheaper."

Fuel prices fluctuate, just like grain prices do. Yes, when oil prices are sky high then biofuel will be cheaper. But when grain prices are sky high it will be the opposite. And the demand for biofuel has been forcing grain (and food) prices much higher than they should be. So no, it isn't actually cheaper.

It is true that biofuel used to be cheaper than diesel, back in 2007, but 5 years later the prices have gone up considerably and due to market conditions what happens is that biofuel (*which is really just diesel made using plants*) is now the same price as diesel. Sometimes more.

Myth #4. "Biofuel is greener because its made using plants."

First of all say something is "greener" is a misnomer.
Think about this... you are taking fields of corn (or other suitable plants), turning it into biofuel and then BURNING it. You are basically just setting fire to corn fields. How is that supposed to be green or "greener"? Yes, the plants convert CO2 in the air into plant fibre using photosynthesis, but it really just ends up being "neutral" if you ignore the fuel used to plant the seeds and later harvest all of it, transport it... To say nothing to the damage done to the food industry and starving people who can't afford the rising prices of corn. The end result is that it is not green and it is not "greener".

Add in deforestation of tropical rainforests to plant fields for crops and the damage is bigger than you can ever imagine. Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil's biofuels.

Myth #5. "Biofuel is sustainable."

Hahaha! To provide enough biofuel for all of our needs we would need to radically change the way we farm. It would result in increasing the prices of food by many times over. We really don't have the resources to mass produce large amounts of biofuel AND food production at the same time. To be sustainable something needs to be able to be reproduced again and again, in unlimited quantities, without effecting other markets (food production) in such a way that it would be counterproductive, and meet the market demand.

Here is some data:

To produce 5.75 percent of Europe's transport power using biofuel Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops.

Yes, if we turned all the cornfields towards biofuel production we might be able to boost biofuel production. But it will never meet all of the market demand... and it would be disastrous for food prices.

Myth #6. "The biofuel industry isn't controlled by Big Oil."

If only that were true... Big Oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships, and they are consolidating the research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial roof. You cannot cut into the action of the oil industry without them turning around and buying out the competition.

For more on this topic read the article below:

The Biofuel Myths

By Eric Holt-Giménez

The term "biofuels" suggests renewable abundance: clean, green, sustainable assurance about technology and progress. This pure image allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations and even the International Panel on Climate Change to present fuels made from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as the next step in a smooth transition from peak oil to a yet-to-be-defined renewable fuel economy.

But in reality, biofuel draws its power from cornucopian myths and directs our attention away from economic interests that would benefit from the transition, while avoiding discussion of the growing North-South food and energy imbalance.

They obscure the political-economic relationships between land, people, resources and food, and fail to help us understand the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems. "Agro-fuels" better describes the industrial interests behind the transformation, and is the term most widely used in the global South

Industrialized countries started the biofuels boom by demanding ambitious renewable-fuel targets. These fuels are to provide 5.75 percent of Europe's transport power by 2010 and 10 percent by 2020. The United States wants 35 billion gallons a year.

These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops. The entire corn and soy harvest of the United States would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel. Converting most arable land to fuel crops would destroy the food systems of the North, so the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries are looking to the South to meet demand.

The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the biofuels industry is extreme. Over the past three years, venture capital investment in biofuels has increased by 800 percent. Private investment is swamping public research institutions.

Behind the scenes, under the noses of most national antitrust laws, giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships, and they are consolidating the research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial roof.

Biofuel champions assure us that because fuel crops are renewable, they are environment-friendly, can reduce global warming and will foster rural development. But the tremendous market power of biofuel corporations, coupled with the poor political will of governments to regulate their activities, make this unlikely. We need a public enquiry into the myths:

Biofuels are clean and green.

Because photosynthesis performed by fuel crops removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and can reduce fossil fuel consumption, we are told they are green. But when the full lifecycle of biofuels is considered, from land clearing to consumption, the moderate emission savings are outweighed by far greater emissions from deforestation, burning, peat drainage, cultivation and soil-carbon losses.

Every ton of palm oil generates 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions - 10 times more than petroleum. Tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline.

Biofuels will not result in deforestation.

Proponents of biofuels argue that fuel crops planted on ecologically degraded lands will improve rather than destroy the environment. Perhaps the government of Brazil had this in mind when it reclassified some 200 million hectares of dry-tropical forests, grassland and marshes as degraded and apt for cultivation.

In reality, these are the biodiverse ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest, the Cerrado and the Pantanal, occupied by indigenous people, subsistence farmers and extensive cattle ranches. The introduction of agrofuel plantations will push these communities to the agricultural frontier of the Amazon where the devastating patterns of deforestation are well known.

Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil's biofuels. NASA has correlated their market price with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest - currently at nearly 325,000 hectares a year.

Biofuels will bring rural development.

In the tropics, 100 hectares dedicated to family farming generates 35 jobs. Oil-palm and sugarcane provide 10 jobs, eucalyptus two, and soybeans a scant half-job per 100 hectares, all poorly paid.

Until recently, biofuels supplied primarily local and subregional markets. Even in the United States, most ethanol plants were small and farmer-owned. With the boom, big industry is moving in, centralizing operations and creating gargantuan economies of scale.

Biofuels producers will be dependent on a cabal of companies for their seed, inputs, services, processing and sale. They are not likely to receive many benefits. Small holders will be forced out of the market and off the land. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced by the soybean plantations in the "Republic of Soy," a 50-million hectare area in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.

Biofuels will not cause hunger.

Hunger results not from scarcity, but poverty. The world's poorest already spend 50 to 80 percent of household income on food. They suffer when high fuel prices push up food prices. Now, because food and fuel crops compete for land and resources, both increase the price of land and water.

The International Food Policy Research Institute has estimated that the price of basic staples will increase 20 to 33 percent by 2010 and 26 to 135 percent by 2020. Caloric consumption declines as price rises by a ratio of 1:2.

Limits must be placed on the biofuels industry. The North cannot shift the burden of overconsumption to the South because the tropics have more sunlight, rain and arable land. If biofuels are to be forest- and food-friendly, the grain, cane and palm oil industries need to be regulated, and not piecemeal.

Strong, enforceable standards based on limiting land planted for biofuels are urgently needed, as are antitrust laws powerful enough to prevent the corporate concentration of market power in the industry. Sustainable benefits to the countryside will only accrue if biofuels are a complement to plans for sustainable rural development, not the centerpiece.

A global moratorium on the expansion of biofuels is needed to develop regulatory structures and foster conservation and development alternatives to the transition. We need the time to make a better transition to food and fuel sovereignty.

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