Despite the noise being generated in the media denigrating the impacts of bioenergy on our environment and our economy, let’s be clear about one thing: there is, in fact, a global scientific consensus surrounding the massive benefits of sustainably produced bioenergy in all of its forms.
Demonstrating this international accord is a recent presentation made at a European Union conference on indirect land use change (ILUC) from Gernot Klepper, the head of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a reputable research center based in Germany. Klepper’s presentation shows that science is affirming the benefits of biofuels, but due to remaining uncertainty ILUC should not be part of the regulatory framework. Elsewhere, a review of the research literature by two Swedish scientists shows how most studies agree on ethanol’s GHG’s reduction benefits over gasoline.
This blog has made numerous references over the past year to a vast number of peer-reviewed, lifecycle studies that underscore the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction benefits of bioenergy (A Carbon Accounting System for the Future, for example).
The studies show that scientists understand that corn ethanol offers a significant drop in emissions when compared to the production and burning of gasoline. Researchers at DOE’s Argonne National Biodiesel laboratory estimate a reduction in emissions of approximately 34 percent for corn ethanol as compared to gasoline. In fact, another analysis of peer-reviewed studies shows that by 2022, corn ethanol will offer a 60-percent reduction in carbon intensity compared to petroleum-based fuels.
Biodiesel offers even greater benefits and has been deemed by EPA as an “advanced” biofuel because it offers a lifecycle reduction of at least 50 percent in carbon emissions when compared to its petroleum equivalent.
These are numbers that credible scientists around the world have agreed are accurate and reflect the true benefits of these cleaner alternative transportation fuels. Yet the petroleum industry, with a well-oiled public relations operation designed to protect its huge share in the transportation fuel market, continues to generate stories in much of the mainstream media that simply ignores the consensus that scientists have reached on ethanol and biodiesel.
By generating resistance to these first-generation alternative fuels, oil interests are also impeding the development of second-generation biofuels, including those made from cellulosic materials such as crop and forest residues and some dedicated energy grasses. Cellulosic biofuels, which are just now coming onto the market in viably commercial amounts, offer environmental and economic benefits even greater than current biofuels, generating emissions at a rate of up to 90 percent lower than their petroleum counterparts while creating jobs and boosting farm and rural revenues.
Biomass used for the production of electricity faces similar challenges from legacy energy interests, including the coal industry, and some environmental groups who simply don’t understand that the economics of biomass preclude the use of anything other than sustainably produced wood.
A new UC Berkeley study, which is just the latest in research that underscores the benefits of this cleaner power resource, shows that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration in the western United States, power generators could actually store more carbon than they emit and make a critical contribution to an overall zero-carbon future by the second half of the 21st century.
Many studies, including recent ones from credible sources such as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and others, show farms and forests have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions some 25 percent through carbon dioxide sequestration and other land management and harvest practices that reduce emission.
Yet, these and other widespread findings seem to get lost in media cycles seemingly more intent on stories generated by long-vested special interests that criticize new and cleaner alternatives in meeting a growth in energy demand that will be staggering. Ignored is the broad scientific consensus that finds renewable energy alternatives are, in fact, a viable and necessary means to meet that growing need for energy in a cleaner, more environmentally beneficial way.
The 25x’25 Alliance urges all renewable energy advocates to use the research findings accepted by scientists across the globe to defend bioenergy as a solution in meeting the world’s energy and GHG emission challenges. Stakeholders should be also prepared to counter any misguided media accounts that would cast doubts on the benefits of bioenergy in what is becoming a new global energy strategy.