25x’25 Responds to Questionable Assessment of Bioenergy Production
(25x’25) A report released today by the World Resources Institute would seem to demonstrate the old adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The “change” in this instance is a massive amount of research showing the overall benefits of using bioenergy are not only real, but growing. The “same,” sadly, is the report authored by the same researcher who made similar discredited claims about biofuels seven years ago.
The latest assertions made by Tim Searchinger and others trot out a new version of the debunked contentions made in 2008 when the Princeton researcher argued that any dedicated use of land for growing bioenergy comes at the cost of not using that land for growing food or animal feed, or for storing carbon.
The researchers selectively omit those studies in recent years showing production of feedstocks for biofuels is growing more efficient with each growing season. In the United States, for example, corn, which is used to produce animal feed, high fructose corn syrup and, of course, ethanol, has seen production levels increase from an average of 119.6 bushels per acre in 1986 to 171 bushels last year, according to USDA, marking a longstanding upward trend.
Economists at Iowa State University (whose economic model was used for the 2008 Searchinger analysis) found that “…the primary land use change response of the world’s farmers in the last 10 years has been to use available land resources more efficiently rather than to expand the amount of land brought into production.”
Searchinger and company also conveniently omit the fact that biofuels and biomass are the best ways to break a fossil fuel monopoly over our transportation and electricity markets that are the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). When looking at the GHG benefits of biofuels, a 2012 Argonne analysis found that “advances in technology and the resulting improved productivity in corn and sugarcane farming and ethanol conversion … have increased the energy and [GHG] beneﬁts of using bioethanol.” Argonne scientists have shown that the carbon intensity of petroleum-based gasoline is increasing while the carbon intensity of biofuels is decreasing dramatically.
Meanwhile, there is a growing body of evidence documenting the carbon-sequestration benefits of biofuels. For example, a study by a team of South Dakota State researchers supports the theory that many of the surface soils in the region became carbon sinks when seeded with corn.
These advancements make bioenergy a powerful, high-value low-carbon energy solution. The use of plants, crops and trees for bioenergy and bioproducts operate within a carbon cycle in a way that, unlike fossil fuels, does not add new sources of carbon to the atmosphere. Indeed, other uses of biogenic carbon, such as biochemicals, bioplastics and forest products, recycle carbon and sequester CO2, further reducing atmospheric GHG concentrations.
The Searchinger report’s claims that biofuel production raises the cost of food are not defensible, given that since they were made seven years ago, they have repeatedly been disproved by any number of creditable sources, including U.S. government analyses showing food cost increases are more likely attributable to higher energy and marketing costs.
The latest Searchinger misfire reiterates previously discredited claims and should be viewed with much skepticism from policy makers. READ MORE and MORE / MORE (Renewable Fuels Association) and MORE (Union of Concerned Scientists) and MORE (World Resources Institute) and MORE (Farm Futures) and MORE (SlashDot.org) and MORE (WHIO includes Video) and MORE (The Epoch Times) and MORE (CBS News) Download report (Iowa State University) Abstract (Argonne National Laboratory study) ABSTRACT (National Institute of Food and Agriculture) Download report (World Resources Insititute)
Excerpt from The Union of Concerned Scientists: The headline 7 years ago – that crop-based biofuels are far worse than fossil fuels – no longer holds.
Both the studies and the world have changed. Agricultural markets are more flexible, deforestation has fallen in some key areas (Brazil in particular) and biofuels production is getting more efficient. The overall result is that biofuels are getting cleaner over time, and most biofuels are cleaner than gasoline.
Brazil was making in reducing deforestation. As my colleagues have described in their recent report, Deforestation Success Stories, Brazil has cut the rate of deforestation by three quarters and they have done this even as soybean and cattle production continue to grow.
But corn ethanol production has been getting more efficient, and an updated version of GREET that reflects these efficiency gains finds that the direct emissions for Midwestern corn ethanol produced using natural gas are about 60 g/MJ or 40% cleaner than gasoline. Adding 20 g/MJ to account for ILUC emissions still leaves typical corn ethanol about 20% cleaner than gasoline. And for corn ethanol producers that adopt the most efficient technology in their production process, for example installing efficient combined heat and power systems, the emissions can come down even further. READ MORE
4 Minutes with… Johan Martinez, Director of Renewable Energy and New Business, Asocaña
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Asocaña is the association of Colombian sugarcane growers and sugarcane mills. … The competition with the fossil resources will always exist and make pressure to the governments to liberalize markets in favor of traditional fuels, but biofuels require a policy decision for implementation. My role is to build and collect arguments that support the biofuels policy. I work very close to the government and the producers to harmonize the policy in order to be sustainable in all aspects: environment, economic and social.
What do you feel are the most important milestones the industry must achieve in the next 5 years?
1 – Reaffirm the RFS2
2 – The implementation of a biofuels program all over China
3 – Commercial scale facilities for new biofuels: Butanol, drop in biofuels
4 – Biomass trade
5 – Extensive manufacturing of FFV in Europe and Asia
If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the Advanced Bioeconomy, what would you change?
I will disappear the hidden (and not hidden) subsidies of the industry in order to have a fair competition that will enable international trade. READ MORE