Even as some states are mandating ethanol as part of the fuel mix, new research suggests that some biofuels are less ecofriendly than they seem.
Zainal Abd Halim/Reuters
Creating fuel from plants seems like a win-win proposition. It reduces dependence on foreign oil, and it doesn't produce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming – at least that's what advocates claim. But biofuels are not without their critics.
Some recent research suggests bio fuels could have a greater environmental impact – biodiversity loss, destruction of farmland, and the energy necessary to produce them, for example – than burning fossil fuels, reports The Guardian, a British daily.
"… [A]lmost half of the biofuels, a total of 12, had greater total environmental impacts than fossil fuels. These included economically-significant fuels such as US corn ethanol, Brazilian sugar cane ethanol and soy diesel, and Malaysian palm-oil diesel." Because of the questions raised over biofuel safety, the European Union is working on a proposal to ban some imported biofuels believed to do more harm than good. The International Herald Tribune reports in its environment blog: "The idea is to refuse imports of fuels made from raw materials grown in forests, grasslands or wetlands that were recently cleared. The EU also wants biofuels used in Europe to deliver at least a minimal reduction in greenhouse gases compared to conventional gasoline and diesel."
Another concern, expressed by non-governmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, is that government-subsidized large-scale production of biofuels could increase food prices in developing countries. In a recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Joachim von Braun writes:
"… In general, subsidies for biofuels that use agricultural production resources are extremely anti-poor because they implicitly act as a tax on basic food, which represents a large share of poor people's consumption expenditures and becomes even more costly as prices increase…. The trade-offs between food and fuel will actually be accelerated when biofuels become more competitive relative to food and when, consequently, more land, water, and capital are diverted to biofuel production."