Biofuels Not as Carbon-Friendly as Previously Thought

Feb. 17, 2015

State policies may not cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Almost every single study that has evaluated biofuels and found them to be more carbon-friendly than petroleum fuels is flawed and needs to be redone, according to a researcher from the University of Michigan who analyzed over 100 papers published over the past 20 years. The research is defective because it uses an incomplete calculation for the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when corn, soybeans, and sugarcane are grown to make biofuels, according to John DeCicco, the scientist.

DeCicco’s analysis examines what is called “carbon footprinting,” a lifecycle analysis that is supposed to give a complete evaluation of the carbon impact of transportation fuel production. The paper shows that the current methods are ineffective at properly reflecting the dynamics of the terrestrial carbon cycle, which could explain why the results of biofuel-related studies have been so hotly disputed.

Given the new information, the study says that state and federal policies such as the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard may actually be making things worse rather than better for the climate. The study, The Liquid Carbon Challenge: Evolving Views on Transportation Fuels and Climate, is available online.

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