Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the “food versus fuel” debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce food tomorrow, which has prevented the U.S. from maximizing the potential of environmentally beneficial biofuels.
In a recent article, published by the National Academy of Engineering, University of Illinois’ Gutgsell Endowed Chair of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences Steve Long and University of California’s Philomathia Professor of Alternative Energy Chris Somerville predict farmers can sustainably, and affordably, meet humanity’s growing demand for food and fuel.
“It is not possible to control which fields are affected by climate change, but we can decide which fields could produce biofuels without impacting food production, and which crops will benefit the environment most,” said Long, who directs the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Ef?ciency (RIPE) project at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.
Biofuel crops capture and store carbon dioxide from the air, lowering greenhouse gases (GHG). This is especially true of the perennial biofuel crops, like Miscanthus and prairie cordgrass. As a clean-burning alternative to gasoline, biofuels also reduce GHG emissions from your car.
Not all biofuel is created equal
Today ten percent of your car’s fuel (or more if you use E85) comes from ethanol, a fuel often made from fermenting corn and sugarcane. An alternative–called cellulosic ethanol–is produced from plants (called feedstocks) that are not grown for food.
Corn ethanol produces 34-44 percent less GHG emissions than gasoline. Sugarcane ethanol reduces GHG emissions by more than 50 percent; some estimate it reduces GHG by as much as 82 percent. Cellulosic ethanol, when combined with carbon capture and storage, may be a carbon neutral source of fuel with no net GHG emissions.
Cellulosic feedstocks have a lot of other benefits: They convert more sunlight energy into biomass energy per unit land area than food crops. Their deep, soil-binding root systems preserve precious topsoil and recycle nutrients, requiring little or no additional fertilizer. And because they don’t have to be replanted each year, perennial feedstocks have an even smaller carbon footprint than annual crops.
Long and Somerville predict that over time acreage devoted to sugarcane and cellulosic biofuels will increase while corn—which has relatively fewer GHG benefits—will be grown almost exclusively for food and livestock feed.
Turn idle acres into fuel sources
The article notes that the U.S. is in a very fortunate position. “The U.S. has many millions of acres of unused and marginal land that could support biofuel crop production, to the economic and environmental benefit of those regions,” Long said. “This cannot be done tomorrow, but with well-planned research and development, in 20 years these acres could provide a perpetual and sustainable source of fuels for the U.S.”
Over the past 25 years, six million hectares of land dropped out of crop production due to federal conservation reserve programs and farmers abandoning marginal land that is not profitable for food crops. Cellulosic feedstocks thrive on this marginal land, including infertile land in the South as well as semi-desert and salty soils.
Miscanthus × giganteus, a promising cellulosic feedstock, showed no significant difference in yield when grown on high-quality or marginal land in Illinois. In England, it was grown for 14 years without fertilizer without any evidence of yield loss.
Great, but how much will this cost?
In time, biofuels will likely cost less than fossil fuels which might one day be subject to carbon taxes for environmental damage from GHG emissions.
While biofuels made from food and feed crops (e.g. corn and sugarcane) will increase the price of food, you won’t notice a price hike at the grocery store; the price of grain is a very small portion of retail food prices in developed countries. This also provides an incentive to the farmer to invest and improve efficiency of production, Long said.
Biofuels will increase food prices in developing regions where large numbers of urban people live on a few dollars a day and depend on raw grains. However, rural small farmers in these areas will benefit from higher crop prices and could invest their profits into increasing production, which would eventually decrease prices.
But ultimately it’s the environmental costs we have to worry about, Long said.
The Latest on: Food versus Fuel
via Google News
The Latest on: Food versus Fuel
- Motor Fuel Group acquires six forecourt sites in the Lake Districton December 4, 2020 at 6:37 am
Forecourt operator Motor Fuel Group has acquired six sites in the Lake District from AUK Investments. They consist of three BP-branded and three Shell-branded stations across Windemere and Kendal. The ...
- 10 Post-Workout Foods That Will Help You Build Muscle and Recover Fasteron December 4, 2020 at 6:17 am
If you want to build muscle and achieve your fitness goals, downing the right fuel after a workout is nearly as important as exercise itself, say experts within the nutrition field.“Nailing your ...
- Consumers Want Convenience, Security and More Pay-at-the-Pump Options from Fuel Retailers, New TNS Research Findson December 3, 2020 at 7:39 am
The pandemic is reshaping consumer behaviors and their attitudes toward merchants of all stripes, including fuel and convenience retailers. New data suggests consumer preferences … Continue Reading → ...
- Los Angeles Sanitation Districts Expand Food Waste Recycling System to Produce Vehicle Fuelon December 2, 2020 at 8:00 pm
As part of its mission to convert waste into resources, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (Sanitation Districts) recently started up a biogas ...
- Fuel the Future: A chance to assist those affected by food insecurityon December 2, 2020 at 5:08 pm
In 2019, 1 in 5 youth in Oregon experienced food insecurity, and today the COVID-19 pandemic continues to push more families into financial hardship, increase the threat of hunger across communities, ...
- Los Angeles County recycling food waste into renewable vehicle fuelon December 2, 2020 at 1:46 pm
The waste includes dinner scraps and spoiled fruit and vegetables from commercial businesses including grocery stores and restaurants.
- How Porsche's new e-fuel plant could pave the way for guilt-free classic-car motoringon December 2, 2020 at 10:23 am
Porsche and Siemens plan to build the world's first industrial-scale e-fuel plant. The gas will be safe for use in vintage Porsches -- and your car.
- LA County Sanitation Districts Turn Food Waste Into Fuel For Vehicleson December 1, 2020 at 3:42 pm
A new purification system for recycling food waste is being used by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts to produce renewable natural gas for vehicles, it was announced Tuesday. The biogas ...
- Sanitation Districts Expand Food Waste Recycling System to Produce Vehicle Fuelon December 1, 2020 at 12:29 pm
As part of its mission to convert waste into resources, the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (Sanitation Districts) recently started up a biogas purification system to recycle food waste into ...
- Idaho AG reaches gas price settlement with 3 fuel retailerson November 30, 2020 at 5:12 pm
Three Idaho gas retailers have reached a settlement agreement with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden after Wasden's office launched an investigation into their ...
via Bing News