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Another Analysis of Biofuel Pros and Cons
Delucchi, M.A. 2010. Impacts of biofuels on climate change, water use, and land use. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1195: 28-45.

The author, who is associated with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis (USA), writes that "governments worldwide are promoting the development of biofuels, such as ethanol from corn, biodiesel from soybeans, and ethanol from wood or grass, in order to reduce dependency on oil imported from politically unstable regions of the world, spur agricultural development, and reduce the climate impact of fossil fuel combustion."

What was done
In light of the magnitude of this huge endeavor, Delucchi reviews what has been learned by many other students of the subject, after which he discusses "the impacts of biofuels on climate change, water use, and land use."

What was learned
Delucchi's analysis leads him to state that "it is likely that biofuels produced from crops using conventional agricultural practices will not mitigate the impacts of climate change," but that they will instead "exacerbate stresses on water supplies, water quality, and land use, compared with petroleum fuels." And to drive this point home, he quotes Phalan (2009) as stating that "if risks and uncertainties are inadequately assessed and managed, even the best biofuels have the potential to damage the poor, the climate and biodiversity."

What it means
"To avoid these problems," in Delucchi's words, "biofuel feedstocks will have to be grown on land that has no alternative commercial use and no potential alternative ecological benefits, in areas with ample rainfall or groundwater, and with little or no inputs of fertilizers, chemicals, and fossil fuels," while adding that "it is not clear that it can be done economically and sustainably at large scales." Clearly, therefore, the projected massive development of the biofuels industry would appear to represent a hoped-for cure that is far worse than the imagined disease it is intended to assuage.

Phalan, P. 2009. The social and environmental impacts of biofuels in Asia: an overview. Applied Energy 86: S21-S29.

Reviewed 26 January 2011