Why Biofuels Don't Make Sense

27 October 2007

Lately, I have been hearing a lot of politicians promoting biofuels, mainly biodiesel and bioethanol. They seem to believe that biofuels are going to play a major role in solving our upcoming energy crisis, but logic and science do not support that idea. I gave a few reasons in my earlier article on the coming energy crisis, and an article I just read in Science News adds even more. Here are some thoughts:

  • We need to generate more energy. The world's population is growing, and per capita energy use is increasing as the developing world raises its average standard of living. Experts estimate we will need to approximately double the world's energy production by 2050.
  • Biofuels are really a means of transferring energy, not generating energy. Scientists who carefully calculate the energy used in planting, fertilizing, harvesting, transporting, and refining biofuels find that it takes nearly as much (or in some cases more) energy to create the biofuels as the biofuels contain. So, we can use biofuels as a means of transferring energy from one form to another, but we cannot really use them as a means of generating energy.
  • We need to grow more food. As the world's population grows, we will clearly need to produce more food in order to feed the population (unless we all convert to vegetarianism, which would allow us to eat food currently being used to feed farm animals).
  • Biofuel crops are grown on agricultural land. If we want to produce biofuels, we will need to either convert food-crop land to fuel-crop land, or convert non-agricultural land to fuel-crop land.
  • Biofuels use a large amount of land. For instance, if we converted an entire year's U.S. corn production to bioethanol, we could only replace only 6% of the year's U.S. gasoline consumption.
  • 35% of the earth's ice-free land is already used for agriculture. Converting more land to agriculture means cutting down forests. This is already happening in Brazil, which is converting Amazon rain forest to sugar cane production for bioethanol.

Given the above, I cannot see any reason to devote resources to developing biofuels. We cannot afford to use land for growing biofuel crops, and biofuels are not a significant net generator of energy anyway. How can we bring this to the attention of the public and our politicians?