More than 75 scientists from 21 countries, representing various disciplines, have prepared an assessment of the environmental consequences of biofuels. Robert Howarth, Cornell University, USA, and Stefan Bringezu, Wuppertal Institute, Germany, are the editors of a comprehensive volume which presents the various facets of biofuels.
On the one hand, biofuels may provide environmental and social benefits, for instance, when local communities in developing countries are supplied with power and process energy from oil producing plants, in particular when they are grown on land which is not suited for food production.
On the other hand, the ongoing expansion of large scale energy farming for transport biofuels can lead to various environmental and social problems. Corn production for ethanol (additive to petrol) for instance resulted in nutrient pollution of the Mississippi basin and the Gulf of Mexico. The growing demand of transport biofuels in Europe can only be met by increasing imports. This contributes to the conversion of grasslands, savannahs and forests in the tropics, losses of biodiversity and additional green house gas emissions. Even if the use of biomass for other purposes, for instance, the combined production of electricity and heat usually provides a better greenhouse gas balance than transport biofuels, energy cropping remains problematic for various reasons. Whereas, when biomass is used for material purposes first, and the energy is recovered from the subsequent waste, a multiple dividend can be gained.
The authors address a number of measures for improvement. They also recommend that in view of the complex circumstances of biofuel production and application, current policy mandates and targets for biofuels should be reconsidered. Biomass policies need to be integrated into a broader perspective of sustainable resource management.
Robert W. Howarth, Stefan Bringezu (ed.):
Biofuels : Environmental Consequences and Interactions with Changing Land Use
Proceedings from the SCOPE International Biofuels Project Rapid Assessment on Biofuels, 22-25 September, 2008, Gummersbach, Germany
Cornell University, Ithaca, 2009