Biofuel produces more greenhouse gas than petrol

I wonder what percentage of the news, in time and column inches' is devoted to the subject of climate change or global warming (a rose by any other name…)? There is so much comment about it that result will most likely be that a) we become immune to the message b) we might modify our behaviour in response c)we might reject the message.

All are plausible scenarios. But let's think about the last of the list for a moment.
Why would we reject the message? Surely, with such media weight, it must be hitting it's target? Who can possibly refute the spectre of global warming? If we don't do something we're going to destroy the planet - or rather make it uninhabitable by humans and the bugs will take over (which might not be such a bad thing - given the way we've behaved).

But the waters in the flow of information are treacherous. Whether you 'believe' that the Earth's climate is changing because it is just a part of the natural ebb and flow of climate over time or whether you accept that greenhouse gas emmissions are accelerating that change makes little real difference. The fact that the waste products of contemporary human life are fouling our environment is, in my opinion, something to respond to if it is within our capacity. Why wouldn't you?

Reading the London Times online this morning I came across an interesting article that reports a study performed by University of Edinburgh researchers (published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics) into the use of bio-fuels to reduce CO2 emmissions.

The study found that:

"Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save."

"Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised. The research team found that 3 to 5 per cent of the nitrogen in fertiliser was converted and emitted. In contrast, the figure used by the International Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the extent and impact of man-made global warming, was 2 per cent. The findings illustrated the importance, the researchers said, of ensuring that measures designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are assessed thoroughly before being hailed as a solution."

"Dr Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh, used the findings to calculate that with the US Senate aiming to increase maize ethanol production sevenfold by 2022, greenhouse gas emissions from transport will rise by 6 per cent."

This information challenges a superficial assumption that has been made that biofuels will be, in some part, an important part of New Zealand's progression towards a more sustainable energy future. In a recent speech called 'The end of cheap oil' David Parker said:

"In New Zealand, we have sufficient tallow, a by-product of the meat industry, which would, if converted to biodiesel, produce around 5% of our diesel fuel needs. New Zealand does not currently produce much bioethanol. Some bioethanol could be produced from whey or other waste and by-product sources, but other sources are likely to be needed here and elsewhere in the Pacific. Possible sources include sugar cane in Fiji and corn in New Zealand."

Corn is maize (according to the International Starch Institute - no I didn't make that up). So maybe we should avoid that option. not that it will make much difference - the U.S. will pick up the slack for us.

My point is that there is no definitive information on this topic that we can rely on. There is an ancient Aztec saying "A man with a wristwatch knows the time. The man with two wristwatches can't be sure." (just checking to see if you are awake - of course the Aztecs didn't speak English!). When we receive conflicting information or too much choice we simply revert to pre-conditioned behaviour - or do nothing.

So, tonight, as you watch the news and consider the information that has been pre-chewed for you, bear in mind that the reality might be more complex than you are being led to believe.

In an effort to do something worthwhile about making the world a better place I suggest you simply walk around your house and turn off a few appliances at the wall connection.

Here's an idea. Set a target for power consumption in your home. Make it 10% lower than your last bill. Maybe you could start by turning the television off between 6pm and 7.30pm weekdays. Read a book instead. You'll be smarter and by the end of one year we'll be much closer to meeting our Kyoto protocol obligations without needing complex carbon trading schemes and taxation.


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