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Biofuels - Aug 29

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Kenya: Biofuels Likely to Boost Energy But Increase Hunger, Now Critics Warn

Jeff Otieno, The Nation (Nairobi)
Though biofuels are being touted as the solution to Africa's growing energy crisis, not everybody is happy with the rising demand for biofuel products.

Already, some environmentalists have raised concern about the potential threat to the continent's weak food security.

Although the use of bioenergy is yet to take root in Africa, there are fears that farmers might shift from growing food crops whose prices have remained low to biofuels which are currently attracting high prices in the world market.
(29 August 2007)
Long-ish article with an African emphasis. -BA


The looming food crisis

John Vidal, The Guardian
Land that was once used to grow food is increasingly being turned over to biofuels. This may help us to fight global warming - but it is driving up food prices throughout the world and making life increasingly hard in developing countries. Add in water shortages, natural disasters and an ever-rising population, and what you have is a recipe for disaster. reports
(29 August 2007)


Nothing is Simple, Not Even Biofuels

Raya Widenoja , WorldChanging
If you want to do something right, then it's not going to be simple. Unfortunately, this is a general rule of life. It's true not only for cooking, relationships, and work, but also for understanding what "sustainable" biofuels really are.

A recent article in Science by Renton Righelato and Dominick V. Spracklen (with the World Land Trust and the University of Leeds, respectively) has prompted a flurry of discussion about whether biofuels are a good idea or not. In their article, "Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests?"they note that the world's richest natural stores of carbon are in forests. They point out that, over a 30-year period, more greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided per acre of land by restoring forests than by using current biofuel technologies.

This analysis has inspired news articles and blogs with titles such as "EU biofuel policy is a ‘mistake'"and "Ethanol dirtier than regular oil." It has led skeptics worldwide to question whether the accelerating global investment in biofuels is really worth it, both as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels and as a remedy for climate change.

But does this mean that promoting all biofuel technologies is wasteful and counterproductive? Not really. As it turns out, even Mr. Righelato is supportive of so-called "second-generation"biofuels-or liquid fuels derived from grasses and woody materials. In the article, he praises the idea of using "woody biomass"as a way to conserve carbon in soil and plant matter while also cultivating a biofuel feedstock.

Of course, the "first-generation"biofuels we use today are not very sustainable. Ethanol made from corn-the most popular biofuel in the United States-has a particularly low sustainability score, although each gallon of corn ethanol used still reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 13 percent compared to gasoline.

If that 13-percent benefit comes from using land that would have been used to grow corn anyway, then most people would say it's a modest improvement. But if that land was supposed to be set aside for conservation, and is converted to corn instead, then we have a problem: we have just caused more environmental damage than we can make up for by using corn ethanol. Even more damaging would be choosing to convert intact forestlands-particularly intact tropical forests-to cropland for growing biofuels.
(26 August 2007)

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