Nitrous Oxide Emissions Threaten Future of Biofuels Industry
European commission scientists said that biofuels may not be able to be produced sustainably in significant quantities, an article in the Guardian said Tuesday. This news is a bitter pill for the aviation industry in particular, because many in the industry view the use of biofuels as the best way to reduce carbon emissions. It’s also bad news for the road transport industry: it, too, is eager to increase the use of biofuels, and a European Union directive last year requires 10 percent of all road transport fuel to come from plants by 2020.
The news deals another blow to the biofuel industry, because the researchers said that greenhouse gases emitted in making biofuels might negate the carbon dioxide emissions cuts made by replacing fossil fuels. According to biofuel supporters, biofuels are theoretically carbon neutral: when burned, they only release the carbon dioxide absorbed when the plants were growing.
However, opponents of biofuels argue that the increased use of biofuels would mean the destruction of virgin forests — and the release of their stored carbon — as they are converted to food-growing farmland to replace fields diverted to grow biofuels crops.
In addition, the EC Institute of Energy’s Heinz Ossenbrink told the Guardian that research done by EU-funded investigators has identified a problem linked to the large-scale biofuel use: the emission of nitrous oxide. This gas is about 270 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, and is released through the use of fertilizers to grow biofuel crops.
Biofuels continue to secure funding, however, and are considered to be an important part of any future energy mix. Among the recipients of $151 million in grants announced in October by the U.S. Department of Energy were E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, a bio architecture lab in Delaware that is exploring the production of biofuel from seaweed, and Univenture, Inc. in Ohio, one of many companies working on creating biofuel from algae. If even a few of the projects funded by the grants can identify realistic alternative energy sources, they will support U.S. energy independence and reduce future energy costs, including the cost of heating oil, which can be directly replaced by biofuel.