A closer look at the flawed studies behind policies used to promote 'low-carbon' biofuels

Nearly all of the studies used to promote biofuels as climate-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuels are flawed and need to be redone, according to a University of Michigan researcher who reviewed more than 100 papers published over more than two decades.

Once the erroneous methodology is corrected, the results will likely show that policies used to promote biofuels—such as the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard and California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard—actually make matters worse when it comes to limiting net emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide gas.

The main problem with existing studies is that they fail to correctly account for the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when corn, soybeans and sugarcane are grown to make biofuels, said John DeCicco, a research professor at U-M's Energy Institute.

"Almost all of the fields used to produce biofuels were already being used to produce crops for food, so there is no significant increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere. Therefore, there's no climate benefit," said DeCicco, the author of an advanced review of the topic in the current issue of Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment.

"The real challenge is to develop ways of removing carbon dioxide at faster rates and larger scales than is accomplished by established agricultural and forestry activities. By focusing more on increasing net carbon dioxide uptake, we can shape more effective climate policies that counterbalance emissions from the combustion of gasoline and other liquid fuels."

In his article, DeCicco examines the four main approaches that have been used to evaluate the carbon dioxide impacts of liquid transportation fuels, both petroleum-based fuels and plant-based biofuels. His prime focus is "carbon footprinting," a type of lifecycle analysis proposed in the late 1980s as a way to evaluate the total emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases associated with the production and use of .

Numerous fuel-related carbon footprinting analyses have been published since that time and have led to widespread disagreement over the results.

Even so, these methods were advocated by environmental groups and were subsequently mandated by Congress as part of the 2007 federal energy bill's provisions to promote biofuels through the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard. Shortly thereafter, parallel efforts in California led to that state's adoption of its Low-Carbon Fuel Standard based on the carbon footprinting model.

In his analysis, DeCicco shows that these carbon footprint comparisons fail to properly reflect the dynamics of the terrestrial carbon cycle, miscounting uptake during plant growth. That process occurs on all productive lands, whether or not the land is harvested for , he said.

"These modeling errors help explain why the results of such studies have remained in dispute for so long," DeCicco said. "The disagreements have been especially sharp when comparing biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, to conventional fuels such as gasoline and diesel derived from petroleum."


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Time to rethink misguided policies that promote biofuels to protect climate

Citation: A closer look at the flawed studies behind policies used to promote 'low-carbon' biofuels (2015, February 5) retrieved 24 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-02-closer-flawed-policies-low-carbon-biofuels.html
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Feb 05, 2015
And so, the Pathological Lies of the AGW Cult's Pathological "science" are revealed. But then, what must a cult do when their desperation to propagate a dogma of doom and gloom is defied by reality.

Feb 05, 2015
And so, the Pathological Lies of the AGW Cult's Pathological "science" are revealed. But then, what must a cult do when their desperation to propagate a dogma of doom and gloom is defied by reality.
Are you really serious? How is it evidence that a problem was invented if you find that a proposed solution doesn't work? By your reasoning, the failure of the war on drugs would show that drugs are not a problem, and the failure of law enforcement and intelligence to prevent the 9/11 attacks would show that islamic extremism never was a problem.

Feb 05, 2015
Are you serious? Did you even read the article?
http://en.wikiped..._science

Feb 06, 2015
Are you serious? Did you even read the article?
http://en.wikiped..._science

Certainly, and your link. Now go back to your post.

1) You made a blanket assertion of 'Pathological Lies of the AGW Cult's Pathological "science"'. You haven't explained how a paper on biofuels confirms that all science supporting global warming is pathological.

2) Please do list your evidence that work on biofuels is pathological science. do go through the list in that Wikipedia article. Distinguish between normal exploration of an idea, and sticking to it after it has been discredited. See cold fusion example. The initial checks after the Pons & Fleischman announcement were not pathological. The cold fusion enthusiasts who insist there is a conspiracy to suppress this finding meet the definition. Tell me how that distinction applies to biofuels.

Now the same question to you. Did you read my post? Did you understand my argument? Your reply fails to address it.

Feb 07, 2015
Much of this article appears to hype a paper that has relatively little new information. The modeling of DeCicco is simply an extension of the 2008 papers by Fargione, et al., and Searchinger, et al. Unfortunately, the DeCicco paper does NOT expand on the recommendations of these earlier papers that identified appropriate land uses for biofuel production that result in net carbon uptake. It is certainly true that using an Iowa soybean field for biofuel production, and replacing the soybeans that would otherwise be used for livestock feed with new soybean fields from cleared Amazon rain forest creates a large carbon debt that takes many years to recoup. This is the gist of DiCicco's modeling paper. But it is also true that using degraded soils or abandoned mine lands for biofuel production has potential to both reduce fossil fuel production and sequester carbon as soil organic matter. A careful reading of scientific articles reveals that biofuels have a role, albeit a smaller one.

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