April 23, 2010
Soy Biodiesel Worse For Global Warming?

This is funny. Maybe politicos should do more research before imposing half-baked energy mandates?

BRUSSELS, April 21 (Reuters) - Biofuels such as biodiesel from soy beans can create up to four times more climate-warming emissions than standard diesel or petrol, according to an EU document released under freedom of information laws.

Okay, I know some of you might be angry at the thought that good intentions are resulting in a bad outcome. But it is kinda hard to see biomass energy as a matter of good intentions even before considering the report above. The problems with it have been evident for quite a while, so much so I've gotten bored of the topic.

Still, once more into the breach. The idea that crop residues (e.g. corn stover) would make good sources of biomass energy material is quested in this study that finds loss of precious topsoil from removing crop residues.

MADISON, WI, April 5, 2010 -- Crop residues, perennial warm season grasses, and short-rotation woody crops are potential biomass sources for cellulosic ethanol production. While most research is focused on the conversion of cellulosic feeedstocks into ethanol and increasing production of biomass, the impacts of growing energy crops and the removal of crop residue on soil and environmental quality have received less attention. Moreover, effects of crop residue removal on soil and environmental quality have not been compared against those of dedicated energy crops.

In the March-April 2010 issue of Agronomy Journal, published by the American Society of Agronomy, Dr. Humberto Blanco reviewed the impacts of crop residue removal, warm season grasses, and short-rotation woody crops on critical soil properties, carbon sequestration, and water quality as well as the performance of energy crops in marginal lands. The review found that crop residue removal from corn, wheat,and grain sorghumcan adversely impact soil and environmental quality. Removal of more than 50% of crop residue can have negative consequences for soil structure, reduce soil organic carbon sequestration, increase water erosion, and reduce nutrient cycling and crop production, particularly in erodible and sloping soils.

"Crop residue removal can make no-till soils a source rather than a sink of atmospheric carbon," says Blanco, even at rates lower than 50%. Residue removal at rates of less than 25% can cause loss of sediment in runoff relative to soils without residue removal. To avoid the negative impacts on soil, perhaps only a small fraction of residue might be available for removal. This small amount of crop residues is not economically feasible nor logistically possible. Blanco recomends developing other alternative biomass feedstock sources for cellulosic ethanol production.

My worry is that advances in biomass energy technology will so improve the EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) that biomass energy become far more cost effective. Then it'll take off, driving food prices much higher while also speeding soil depletion. Since I think Peak Oil is coming in the 2010s I expect really strong economic incentives to make biomass energy more viable. The environmental consequences (loss of rain forests, soil depletion, more fertilizer run-off) will cause all sorts of problems down the line.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 April 23 07:39 PM  Energy Biomass

Paul D. said at April 25, 2010 11:45 AM:

If biomass for liquid fuels really takes off, the place where it will dominate will be the parts of the globe where growing seasons are long, water is ample, and labor is cheap. The tropics, in other words. Too bad about those rain forests, guys.

wdarty said at April 25, 2010 12:06 PM:

The next "oops!" in alternative energy development will be the unintended consequences of removing kinetic energy from the atmosphere (via wind turbines).

Person of Choler said at April 25, 2010 12:16 PM:

One had to be [1]well educated (by what passes for education these days) and [2]completely ignorant of modern farming techniques
not to realize from the beginning that fuels like biodiesel and ethanol cause net additions to "greenhouse gases".

These programs have nothing to do with climate and everything to do with subsidies to world wide agribusiness.

Same with Cap and Trade: a lovely way to increase government control of daily life, raise hidden taxes, and
provide another commodity for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and that lot to hoover up cash inflate into another
commodity bubble. And when that bubble pops, we get to bail them out again.

Diggs said at April 25, 2010 2:20 PM:

Honestly, when have envirotards ever been correct? Tens of thousands killed by toxic skies over US cities by late 1970s? Nope. New ice age by late 1990s? Nope. Mass starvation by 2000? Nope. Rape of the Amazon rain forest by 2010? Nope. Nuclear Winter? Nope.
If one marches to Al Gore's drum, one deserves all the skepticism that is coming, and more.

Hucbald said at April 25, 2010 3:55 PM:

Soy biodiesel could only be worse for global warming if there was such a thing as global warming: There isn't, so it can't be.

nbindo said at April 25, 2010 6:39 PM:

And, "Peak Oil" is a myth.
The governmental restrictions on oil and gas exploration and exploitation may present the same symptoms as predicted by the "Peak Oil" Nostradamus, but "Peak Oil" is false.

Keith_Indy said at April 26, 2010 5:37 AM:

Hah, why would politicians start doing research on the solutions they pass now?

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