A University of Michigan research paper shows that the heavily-promoted biofuels may contribute to climate change more than gas. Researchers found higher levels of carbon emissions associated with biofuels than with conventional fuel.
Until now, biofuels have been touted as a safer alternative to gasoline since they are derived from crops such as soybean and corn. The federal government has heavily invested in the renewable fuels in recent years.
In just ten years, the amount of corn crops designed to be turned into fuel has more than tripled. Additionally, soybean crops devoted to biofuels production doubled in the same amount of time.
Lead author of the study professor John DeCicco said that the new study virtually challenges more than a decade’s worth of public policy. The professor was aware that his research will meet stark opposition.
As expected, farming and biofuels industries dismissed the study results. Some critics questioned the scientific methods used to reach the conclusions, while others suspected a conflict of interest. The American Petroleum Institute, which seeks biofuels’ downfall, has funded the research.
But DeCicco’s team is not easily intimidated. Researchers said that the federal government’s assumption that the renewable fuels are carbon-neutral is plain wrong. Federal researchers had though for years that the carbon absorbed by crops in their growth cycle offsets the carbon in tailpipe emissions.
Federal agencies asses the amount of emissions for a particular type of fuel by looking at the entire production and life cycles. In the case of gasoline, the federal government takes into account the emissions during drilling, refining and transportation.
For biofuels, the government looks only at fertilizer use and fuel refining since the crops’ natural processes presumably offset tailpipe emissions. DeCicco recently said that carbon neutrality is nothing more than an “assumption.”
He argued that no studies focused on what is happening on the farmland because people felt they didn’t have to.
“I swallowed hard when I first, on a mathematical basis, uncovered the problem,”
He added that interest groups “congealed around” the hypothesis leaving no room for independent research.
The research team based their study on cropland production data from the USDA. Researchers used the data in computer models to see the chemical composition and carbon input and output from plants.
Biofuels Worse than Gasoline
The statistical models revealed that over the last decade, crops have offset just 37 percent of biofuels-tied emissions. DeCicco commented on the findings saying that the renewable fuels are worse than conventional fuels.
The Renewable Fuels Association criticized Prof. DeCicco for his “fallacious results.” The group said that the researcher has been pushing these “flawed” arguments for years, but climate scientists and federal researchers repeatedly rejected them.
The RFA underlined the source of the funds for the latest study: the American Petroleum Institute. The organization said it is flattering that the oil industry is so interested in renewable fuels. Yet, the RFA advises the API to invest its resources in research on the climate impacts of petroleum instead.
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