The Obama administration’s claims as to the safety and wisdom of using biofuels to save the environment have come under fire from a federally-funded study released in the April 20, 2014 edition of Nature Climate Change, a peer-reviewed journal. The study found that fuel derived from corn will not enable the nation to meet the federally-mandated goals set in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.
The study looked at corn ethanol exclusively and found that no matter how much residual corn material was used to make fuel, there would be an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The 2007 law mandates that alternative fuels emit at least 60 percent less carbon dioxide into the air than oil-based fuel. It is no known whether this figure considers the entire lifecyle of a fuel. That is, the environmental impact of the procurment, refinement, and transportation of the fuel.
The study also only considers ethanol fuel and not biodiesel. Biodiesel was the biofuel originally considered by Rudolph Diesel when he invented his oil-burning engine. Presently, many areas mandate that a certain percentage of the diesel fuel pumped there include oil extracted from plants. Biodiesel can be used in nearly every diesel engine in production and unrefined waste vegetable oil can be burned in diesel cars which have installed a special converter.
Using 100 percent biodiesel is alleged to create a 67 percent decrease in total hydrocarbons and a 78 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions. With numbers like this, it might be wondered why the administration is seeking a single-bullet solution to fuel-based pollution concerns. With at least two plant-based fuel types available, and such a wide variety of plants available which can create either ethanol or biodiesel, it seems that a single-source solution demonstrates a narrow view and a limited dedication to finding a solution to the climate change problem.
Biofuel proponents claim that the study is simplistic in how it treats the loss of carbon from soil. They contend that biofuel does not speed global warming. DuPont contracted a study which claims that corn ethanol will create 100 percent less carbon than petroleum fuel.
The Obama admnistration and DuPont shot back against the revelations to state that the study overestimates how much corn residue would be removed to create fuel. A DuPont spokesperson stated that the study’s core analysis was of an extreme scenario which could not be taken by any farmer because it would totally deplete the soil of the carbon needed to support crops. A real-world farmer who followed the study’s model would soon find his or her business failing.
Adam Liska, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor who lead the study, claimed that he sought to poke holes in the study, but could find no way to escape its conclusions. The study showed that if less corn residue is removed then less fuel is created, resulting in zero gain on all sides.
While the study does indicate that corn ethanol will be better than petroleum based fuel, it will not be able to reach the standard of the 2007 law. Since biofuel still speeds global warming, the administration, private industry, and independent scientists are still burdened with finding a solution to the problem of global climate change.
By Hobie Anthony