Biofuels may not be all they are cracked up to be. The Economist reports (“Biofools“) that biofuels may actually hurt the environment more than traditional energy sources.
The International Council for Science (ICSU)…report concludes that, so far, the production of biofuels has aggravated rather than ameliorated global warming. In particular, it supports some controversial findings published in 2007 by Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. Dr Crutzen concluded that most analyses had underestimated the importance to global warming of a gas called nitrous oxide (N2O) by a factor of between three and five. The amount of this gas released by farming biofuel crops such as maize and rape probably negates by itself any advantage offered by reduced emissions of CO2.
Although N2O is not common in the Earth’s atmosphere, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and it hangs around longer. The upshot is that, over the course of a century, its ability to warm the planet is almost 300 times that of an equivalent mass of CO2.
On my commute to campus this morning, I used the UCSD shuttle. This shuttle service now uses buses fueled by biodiesel. One drawback of using biodiesel, however, is that the engines are prone to overheat. When today’s temperature hit 95 degrees in San Diego, sure enough the bus broke down and was not able to make the 25 minute journey to campus.
Biofuels may not be the fuel of the future after all.