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The Great Biofuel Hoax of 2008 – Energy Policy and Climate Change

Biofuels. What a great name! It only sounds green. Looking around me, I see a proliferation of biodiesel stickers everywhere. In my home state of Oregon, all gas stations will be required to add at least 10% ethanol to all gasoline by next year. Environmentalists are cheering as politicians and the media jump on the biofuel bandwagon. Sounds like a huge win for the environment and society. Think again, in reality, biofuels are much more brown than green.

Here are five reasons why biofuels can be harmful to the environment:

  • 1. Biofuels are so profitable that the rainforest, the most efficient absorber of greenhouse gases, is cut down or burned to grow grain and sugar cane to produce ethanol or biodiesel.
  • 2. Farmers growing highly profitable biofuel crops seek the fastest growth and highest yields and use large amounts of chemical fertilizers; which removes key micronutrients from our increasingly scarce topsoil, and nitrogen-rich runoff causes massive algae growth that destroys our streams, rivers and lakes.
  • 3. Because biofuels are more profitable than food crops, large amounts of prime farmland are devoted to biofuel production, creating grain shortages and increasing the price of grain products, especially in the third world countries.
  • 4. Although biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases per gallon than petroleum fuels, they still emit significant amounts. Biofuels are also less fuel efficient. My vehicle mileage drops substantially when I use a fuel that contains ethanol. Therefore, biofuels in general do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as claimed.
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  • 5. This is perhaps the most important reason. To permanently solve both the energy crisis and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, we will have to move from consumable fuels to energy sources that do not consume fuel, emit heat or produce pollutants. Right now, electricity is the cleanest energy source available and companies are beginning to develop and produce powerful electric cars that can go a few hundred miles on a single charge. For these vehicles to be practical, we will need to set up charging stations in every city and along every road. This requires a massive transition from service stations to charging stations. The use of biofuels will perpetuate the existing infrastructure of service stations and delay the transition to charging stations. The longer we delay this transition, the more greenhouse gases will be released into our atmosphere.

At this point, some of you may be wondering why our political leadership and big business are so supportive of biofuels; however, they do not even mention electric vehicles. It might be worth watching the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car,” which is available on DVD. Click here to go to their website.

For starters, most of the big grain producers are big corporate farms with a strong lobbying presence in Washington and a history of making campaign contributions to politicians who support their agendas. Biofuels are big business for these companies.

The auto industry is also heavily involved in politics, lobbying efforts, and campaign contributions. These companies have a large investment to continue manufacturing fuel-burning internal combustion engines. Moving to electric motors will require significant modernization for these companies. Biofuels allow them to avoid making this investment.

The oil industry is perhaps the one with the most to gain from the implementation of biofuels. They know that the public will eventually demand a move away from oil. All other solutions will take business away from them. However, they will be refining and distributing biofuels like they do oil, and crude biofuels are also cheaper. Therefore, the oil industry can make a lot of money from the distribution of biofuels.

The oil industry makes huge campaign contributions to certain politicians. They have been successful in getting many of their supporters and former executives elected and appointed to the highest levels of power in our current administration. It is not surprising that our political leaders are embracing biofuels.

The solution to both the energy crisis and pollution is the transition to non-consumable fuels. This means electricity production using solar, geothermal, wind and tidal energy. Even nuclear power could be a viable alternative if spent fuel can be safely transported out of the Earth’s atmosphere using recently developed low-cost rocket technologies. All these types of energy production are already in use and are becoming cheaper and more efficient every day. We have not yet begun to see the economies of scale and innovation that will make this type of energy production much cheaper the more it is developed and used.

At this very moment, several companies are planning massive solar power installations in Arizona, which is beginning to be called the Silicon Valley or Middle East of solar energy production. Huge wind farms are being planned for the Plains states. We could be just years away from a massive transition to electric vehicles. For this to succeed, we need big business and our political leadership to focus on this transition. This will take much longer if we allow them to remain focused on biofuels.

When comparing non-consumable energy sources with fuel-based energy production, remember that all fuels must be transported to where they are sold. Transporting fuels burns more fuel, so these transport costs must be calculated into the figures used for greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. The distribution of electricity involves some energy loss, but it is fractional compared to the amount of energy used to transport fuel and does not emit greenhouse gases.

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned hydrogen fuel cells. There are three reasons why: 1. Burning hydrogen still produces heat, 2. Our engineers haven’t yet figured out how to make hydrogen without using huge amounts of energy to make it, and 3. The other renewable energy sources mentioned above have already been discovered. they have moved beyond the experimental stage and are in use in the real world.


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