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Biofuels Slideshow 2

Biofuels Slideshow 2


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Conference on Biofuels, Agriculture and the Environment; how to move towards a policy that embraces a renewable energy future.
Conference on Biofuels, Agriculture and the Environment; how to move towards a policy that embraces a renewable energy future.

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Published by: Environmental Working Group on Feb 10, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Biofuels, Agriculture and the Environment Toward a Policy that Make Sense in a Renewable Energy Future

Remarks by Craig Cox Environmental Working Group To the 2009 Kansas Natural Resources Conference

The role biofuels should play, if any, in a new economy built on renewable energy has become highly controversial. The rapid growth in production in corn ethanol has raised serious questions about the impact of food-crop based biofuels on food prices, volatility in grain prices, and new threats to soil, water, and wildlife. In addition, emerging science is calling into question just how much corn ethanol actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions, if it reduces those emissions at all. Economic analyses have questioned the contribution that corn ethanol can make energy independence by replacing the 140 billion gallons of gasoline Americanʼs burn each year. The same questions that science is raising about corn ethanol are also being asked of so-called next generation biofuels that donʼt rely on food crops to produce biofuels. Policy makers must sort through this sometimes conflicting information to chart a future course for biofuels based on a clear-eyed assessment of the pluses and minuses of biofuels as a renewable energy source. Such a clear-eyed assessment must be based on:

A full appreciation of the challenges we face this century and how biofuels might help or hinder us in meeting those challenges. • An accurate assessment of whether our current biofuels policy is a bridge or barrier to the development of a truly sustainable biofuels industry. • A plan for putting in place the public policy that will ensure we harvest the promise and not the peril of biofuels. Letʼs take each of these items one at a time. First letʼs look at the preeminent challenges we will face this century...

The first challenge we will face this century is to move away from fossil fuels as fast as we can ...

Scientists say we must cut greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2050 to avoid the most serious consequences of global warming...

And reduce the other devastating environmental and ecological consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels...

Our next challenge is to build a new energy economy founded on renewable source such as solar...

...Or wind energy...

But also making energy conservation the first priority of our energy policy...

BUT we must remember that we have to move away from fossil fuels and build a new energy economy WHILE lifting billions out of hunger...

... And Poverty

Moreover, we must meet these challenges in the face of the global warming...

• • •

More frequent and more severe fires. More frequent and severe drought. Pest and insect eruptions.

With profound ecological effects that we donʼt fully understand...

• •

Dead zones expand 10-fold? 75 % of U.S. coastal areas already show symptoms of eutrophication.

... And that will exacerbate long-standing problems with soil degradation and water pollution form agriculture...

• •

Increased frequency and severity of storms. Soil erosion and polluted runoff from cropland could double.

... while trying to grow biofuel feedstocks in a century in which water becomes expensive and water shortages multiply.

UNEP: More than half of humanity will be living with water shortages in less than 50 years. GAO: 36 U.S. states could face water shortages by 2013. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: 2. 7 billion people in 46 countries with a high-risk of violent conflict over water by 2025. Increased frequency and severity of storms.

• •

The preeminent challenges of this century then are to:

• move away from fossil fuels as fast
as we can,

• while doubling food production, • lifting billions out of poverty, and • living with the profound effects of
global warming.

So whatʼs a good biofuel given the challenges we face?

• • • • •

Can make a major contribution, quickly, to displacing gasoline. Doesnʼt compete with food production for land and water. Substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Conserves soil, water, and habitat. Agriculture with all its environmental, economic and development implications is at the center of this challenge.

So, given these challenges, what is the thrust of our current biofuel policy? ... to expand the production and use of corn ethanol.

• • • • •

45 cent tax credit for each gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline. 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol. Federal mandate to use corn ethanol (10 billion gallons this year; 15 billion by 2015). Multiple state mandates and subsidies. Soon be spending more on ethanol tax credits each year than on entire farm bill conservation title

Our policy has “worked.” Tax benefits and mandates to produce corn ethanol have driven a rapid increase in production
U.S. Ethanol Production
7,000 6,000
Gallons (Millions)

5,000 4,000 3,000 2,000 1,000 0
19 92 19 93 19 94 19 95 19 96 19 97 19 98 19 99 20 00 20 01 20 02 20 03 20 04 20 05 20 06 20 07

But how does corn ethanol stack up against the criteria for a “good” biofuel we talked about earlier?

Corn ethanol simply canʼt replace much of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline we burn each year.

Using more corn to produce ethanol drives up the price of corn--the red band in the figure. But higher corn prices drive down the profits of ethanol producers--the blue band in the figure. Only so much corn can be used to produce ethanol... Even using entire 2007 corn crop to produce ethanol would only replace 10 to 15 percent of the gasoline used in the U.S. each year. Corn ethanol just canʼt get us where we need to go...

Corn ethanol competes with food production. Food prices have dropped, but as soon as the global economy recovers, we will be right back where we were in 2008.

“World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period,” says Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. Poor people are suffering daily from the impact of high food prices, especially in urban areas and in low income countries,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. “In some countries, hard-won gains in overcoming poverty may now be reversed.”

Plus new science is raising big questions about whether corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
• • • •
Highly controversial, ongoing debate among scientists. Highly dependent on how you deal with “indirect effects” -- conversion of grassland or forest to crop production. How to account of nitrous oxide emissions from corn production. How you look at it also makes a big difference--emission reductions on a per mile basis tell a different story than on a gallon of gasoline to gallon of corn ethanol comparison. The chart shows that burning E10 only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 2 percent per mile driven.

... And intensified corn production is exacerbating longstanding problems with soil degradation and water pollution form agriculture.

We have made almost no progress in reduced soil erosion since 1997 according to the National Resource Inventory. Agriculture remains the single largest source of water pollution in the United States.

Will cellulosic ethanol save the day???

• •

More questions than answers so far. Which biofuel wins: ethanol, butanol, biogasoline??? What conversion process comes out on top: biological, thermochemical, pyrolysis??? What feedstock is used and how is it produced and harvested?????????? Feedstock production is the biggest concern for conservationists.

Is this the future?

Using crop residues to produce ethanol increases the risk of soil erosion and polluted runoff. Crop “waste” is really “soil food.” It is essential to healthy soils and a productive and sustainable agriculture.

Is this the future?

Dedicated, multispecies energy crops could bring a big improvement in conservation. A vision of the future that excites conservationists.

Or is this the future????
• •
Biofuel feedstocks may end up being produced the same way as corn or soybeans. High yields per acre on land near conversion plants will be needed to make cellulosic biofuels work. If the price is right, farmers will push for the highest yield they can get from each acre.

If corn ethanol is a dead-end and there are more questions than answers about “next generation” biofuels... Where to now with public policy? I think the best course is to:

• First, pause. • Next, change direction. • And finally, proceed with caution.

First, pause

• • •

Given everything we now know, we must quit using federal and state mandates or subsidies to expand “conventional” biofuel production (largely corn ethanol). We should freeze at current levels the 2007 Energy Independence Act requirement to produce corn ethanol. We should phase out the “blenders tax credit” while phasing in subsidies tied to greenhouse gas reductions and conservation.

Next, Change Direction
• • •
We need to put in place a comprehensive energy policy. Conservation and energy efficiency must be the first priority of that comprehensive policy. And we must balance our renewable energy portfolio:

• •

Corn ethanol currently gets 75 percent of renewable energy tax benefits. Taxpayers’ money should be put into into those renewable energy options with the greatest potential for energy independence, greenhouse gas reductions, and for conserving soil, water, and habitat.

Finally, Proceed with Caution

In a recent article in Science Magazine, twenty-three scientists from multiple disciplines had this to say about “advanced biofuels”:

• • •

“We know that grain-based biofuel cropping systems as currently managed cause environmental harm.” “The identification of unintended consequences early in the development of alternative fuel strategies will help to avoid costly mistakes and regrets...”

We need to make sure public policy pushes cellulosic or advanced biofuels in the right direction.

Promise or Peril of Biofuels

• • • •

If we pause, change direction and proceed with caution, will can harvest the promise and avoid the perils of biofuels. Right now we seem to be headed toward a more rationale and comprehensive energy policy. That is very good news, but the corn ethanol industry is pushing for more mandates and subsidies. Conservationists must be vigilant.

At the end of the day the most important priority is not to trade soil or water for oil.

It makes no sense to replace one scarce resource – oil – with two other scarce resources – soil and water. Resource conservation must be a central element of biofuel policy—it is not now. Biofuels are a solution only if they conserve soil, water, and habitat.

• •

Thank You
For what you do to conserve soil, water, and habitat. We are counting on you. Craig Cox Environmental Working Group Midwest Office, Ames Iowa craig@ewg.org

Thank You
For what you do to conserve soil, water, and habitat. We are counting on you. Craig Cox Environmental Working Group Midwest Office, Ames Iowa craig@ewg.org

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