Friday, September 12, 2008

Biofuels losing luster?

After all the hubbub, could biofuels turn out to be an example of science leading to sound policy? Legislators in Europe are responding to the evidence questioning the efficiency of biofuels.

From the NY Times:

PARIS — European legislators said Thursday that government goals for using biofuels should be pared back, prompting the fledgling industry to fire back with a campaign warning that alternatives may be no cleaner.

European governments pledged last year to increase the use of biofuels to 10 percent of all transport fuel by 2020, amid expectations that energy derived from crops would provide a low-carbon alternative. On Thursday, the European Parliament’s influential Industry Committee endorsed the general 10 percent target — but added a number of modifications meant to move away from traditional biofuels made from grains or other crops toward other, renewable energy sources.

By 2015, it called for having 5 percent of transport fuels be from renewable sources, with at least a fifth of that amount from “new alternatives that do not compete with food production.” That could include sources like hydrogen or electricity from renewable sources, or biofuels made from waste, algae or non-food vegetation. The lawmakers stuck to the 10 percent target for 2020, but said at least 40 percent of that should be made up of such “second-generation” renewables. But that target would have to be reviewed in 2014.

The lawmakers were reacting to waning enthusiasm for biofuels. Over the last year, scientists and environmental advocates have warned that some biofuels may be more polluting than fossil fuels, and that the diversion of crops to fuel production may be a factor in rising food prices.

3 comments:

Bishop Hill said...

Looks more like an attempt to buck the market coming unstuck to me. I think you are confusing the science and the economics. The science showed that you could make fuel from corn. The economics showed that you couldn't do it cost-effectively. There was then an attempt to buck the market by massive subsidies, with the disastrous consequences that usually attend this kind of market intervention.

Simon Donner said...

The science also showed that there is net greenhouse gas benefit to many biofuels, like corn, in comparison to oil. The new European policy explicitly requires second-generation biofuels that do not come from he less energy-efficient grains (like corn and rapeseed, what we call canola).

Bishop Hill said...

But that doesn't change the fact that they are uneconomic. Which is to say, they use more resources overall than fossil fuels. Starving people through using farmland to grow fuel doesn't justify a CO2 saving.