Biofuel: Solution to Sixty Percent of Carbon Emissions

Sixty Percent: Industry produces 14% of the world's carbon emissions, Agriculture emits 14%, Transportation emits 14%, and Land use accounts for 18% (Stern, 2008). The study was a conservative analysis- I've been in lectures where Industry alone was closer to 40%. If Industry and Transportation emissions were to become carbon neutral using the technology we hope to someday have, Agriculture (farming) and Land use (deforestation) would still remain formidable. What do industry, transportation, agriculture, and land use all have in common? Biofuels- a solution for carbon emissions and climate change.

Annually, the United States consumes 137 billion gallons of fossil fuel. Ethanol (the largest share of the biofuel market) is limited to only 10% of that 137 billion because it is simply mixed in with regular fossil fuel. Beyond 10% in mixture car makers begin to get nervous what the increase in ethanol will do to engine components. The increase potential for biofuel use is substantial, but likely to remain untapped without a competitive price on carbon emissions to take away the home court advantage of King Coal and Big Oil. Like all renewables, government policy had to mandate fuel goals in order to create market penetration. The US government has decided that by 2020 there must be 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuel in use, which consequently has stimulated a $3 billion biofuel production industry.

Manufacturers stand to gain some of these funds if they can demonstrate appropriate plans for an environmentally friendly production line. Instead of fossil fuels to churn their turbines they could use one of the five sources of biofuel: perennial plants grown on degraded lands abandoned from agricultural use; crop residues; sustainably harvested wood and forest residues; double crops and mixed cropping systems; municipal and industrial wastes (Tilman et. al, 2008). To prove their environmental efficiency, companies will need a life cycle assessment focused on 8 criteria: global warming potential; ozone depletion; emissions of chemicals leading to acid rain; production of chemical runoff; depletion of nonrenewable mineral resources; use of renewable resources; smog creation; toxicity (International Organization for Standardization). Some could also benefit from a certification that adopts the "cradle to cradle" philosophy, eliminating toxins completely.

It is important to ensure that governments and businesses balance what Tilman calls the Biofuel Trilemma: Environment, Energy, and Food, using their life cycle assessments as a guide. For example, land that can be cleared cheaply to create room for feedstock could produce carbon in the form of the decaying plants left in the soil, thus negating any emissions benefits. It is equally important that there be no food shortages due to farming's diverted focus on energy crops taking away land for food production. If planned correctly, biofuel is by wide margins the most carbon neutral, environmentally positive, and entirely sustainable solution we could ever hope for against climate change.

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