Biofuels based on energy crops and crop residues compete with land that grows food, and are unsustainable and damaging to health and the environment especially in the long term. Energy crops are being outsourced to poor Third World countries, which will put pressure on agricultural land. This will threaten food security, exacerbate hunger, destroy biodiversity, and has the potential to cause massive deforestation that accelerates climate change.

  1. Bioethanol and biodiesel from energy crops in Europe and the United States compete for land that grows food, and when subject to realistic life-cycle analysis, are shown to return less energy than the fossil fuel energy squandered in producing them. They deplete the soil, necessitating fossil-fuel intensive fertilizers and pesticides that pollute the environment, and are also disastrous for the economy both because they entail agricultural and other subsidies, and push up the price of food and feed where food crops such as corn is involved.
  2. Major technical and economic hurdles remain in getting ethanol from plant wastes, the most serious being that the fermenting bacteria will not grow beyond a dilute concentration of ethanol. This makes it more costly in terms of water and much more so in terms of energy used for distillation. Genetically engineered ethanol-producing bacteria could devastate agricultural crops if released into the environment; some years ago, a genetically engineered bacterium Klebsiella planticola that produced ethanol from wood debris was found to kill all the wheat plants in every microcosm tested. Burning ethanol also produces carcinogens and increases ozone levels in the atmosphere.
  3. The predicted boom in biodiesel has yet to take off in Europe as the major feedstock oilseed rape is an expensive crop to grow, and there are increasing doubts over its long term sustainability. Growing biodiesel or ethanol-producing energy crops in Europe will involve planting on set-aside land for conserving natural biodiversity, and compete with land used in growing food. Investors are looking to grow alternative energy crops abroad.
  4. Brazil is set to greatly increase its export of ethanol from sugarcane while biodiesel from genetically modified soya is entering the market. Bioenergy crop plantations and the infrastructure needed for massive export of biofuels will place additional pressures on its dwindling forests.
  5. Poor developing nations are in danger of being forced to feed the voracious appetites of rich countries for biofuels instead of their own hungry masses, and suffer the devastation of their natural forests and biodiversity.

Extracted from the article: “Which Energy“, By Mae-Wan Ho

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