First Generation Biofuels: Good or Bad for Man and the Biosphere?
Hein, L. and Leemans, R. 2012. The impact of first-generation biofuels on the depletion of the global phosphorus reserve. Ambio 41: 341-349.
One key issue is the fact, as they describe it, that "some biofuel production pathways increase rather than decrease greenhouse gas emissions, due to associated N2O emissions (Crutzen et al., 2007) or, in the case of palm oil cultivated on peatland soils, because of peat oxidation (Wicke et al., 2008)." They also say "there is concern regarding the impacts on food prices of using food crops for biodiesel and bioethanol production," citing the work of Rosegrant (2008), while further externalities are said by them to relate to "water use, pesticide use, nutrient runoff, and eutrophication of downstream water bodies," as illustrated by Leemans et al. (1996), Cushion et al. (2010) and de Vries et al. (2010). And last, but by no means least - seeing it is the primary focus of their article - Hein and Leemans contend that committing scarce phosphorus-containing nutrients to biofuel production "involves a trade-off between climate change mitigation and future food production."
Finally, after analyzing the many mandates and targets of biofuel-infatuated governments in considerable detail, and after judiciously weighing their potential pros and cons, Rik Leemans and Lars Hein (the chair and deputy chair, respectively, of Wageningen University's Environmental Systems Analysis Group in The Netherlands) conclude that "under current production systems, the negative impacts from biofuel production on phosphorus depletion appear to exceed the positive impacts on climate change mitigation." And, therefore, they state that "current targets for biofuels" - which they say can only be filled with first-generation biofuel sources, as described by the International Energy Agency (2008) - "will affect future food security and may have a net negative impact on future welfare."
Thus, it would appear that the dream of growing the fuel required to keep the engines of industry humming - as well as the engines that enable many of our leisure pursuits - really was, based on Hein and Leemans' analysis, simply too good to be true.
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Crutzen, P.J., Mosier, A.R., Smith, K.A. and Winiwarter, W. 2007. N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions 7: 11,191-11,205.
Cushion, E., Whiteman, A. and Dieterle, G. 2010. Bioenergy Development: Issues and Impacts for Poverty and Natural Resource Management. World Bank, Washington, DC, USA.
De Vries, S.C., van de Ven, G.W.J., van Ittersum, M.K. and Giller, K.E. 2010. Resource use efficiency and environmental performance of nine major biofuel crops, processed by first-generation conversion techniques. Biomass and Bioenergy 34: 588-601.
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Rosegrant, M.W. 2008. Biofuels and Grain Prices: Impacts and Policy Responses. Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA.
Wicke, B., Dornburg, V., Junginger, M. and Faaij, A. 2008. Different palm oil and production systems for energy purposes and their greenhouse gas implications. Biomass and Bioenergy 32: 1322-1337.