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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/13/09

Biofuelgate - The Food Fuels Fiasco

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Message Christopher Calder

A majority of our politicians now realize that turning our food into fuel was a tragic mistake, causing high food prices, starvation around the world, and environmental damage.  Instead of jumping off the biofuel bandwagon as they should, they are now trying to save face by claiming that the next generation of biofuels made from cellulose-yielding plants will be magic.  They claim we can infect millions of acres of farmland with invasive biofuel weeds and not raise the price of food.  The same politicians who refuse to drill for oil on just 2,000 acres of the 19.6 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge want to destroy millions of acres of wildlife habitat and native vegetation to grow weeds so low in energy content they are not worth transporting to a processing factory.

"Cellulosic ethanol is touted as the replacement for corn ethanol.  Unfortunately, cellulosis biomass contains less than 1/3rd the amount of starches and sugars in corn and requires major fossil energy inputs to release the tightly bound starches and sugars for ethanol conversion.  About 170% more energy (oil and gas) is required to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass than the ethanol produced." - David Pimental, professor of Ecology and Agricultural Sciences at Cornell University

A study by Oregon State University economist William Jaeger, titled Biofuel Potential in Oregon, found that to achieve a given improvement in energy independence using ethanol from corn, biodiesel from canola oil, and ethanol from wood-based cellulose could be 6 to 28 times more costly than other policy options, such as raising fuel economy standards. Using all three biofuels at maximum estimated scales of production would lead to a net energy gain of just two-thirds of one percent of Oregon’s annual energy use.  None of the biofuels were found to be marketable without large taxpayer subsidies, and cellulosic ethanol was found to be the most expensive biofuel to produce.  Professor Jaeger says that his latest, yet to be published findings are even more pessimistic about the usefulness of biofuels.
When you try to grow both fuel and food at the same time, you greatly increase the rate of topsoil erosion, because disturbing the land by tilling and harvesting makes soils vulnerable to wind and rain.  Globally, topsoil is being lost ten times faster than it is being replenished, and 30% of the world's arable land has become unproductive in the past 40 years due to erosion. Without topsoil the human race would quickly starve to death, and the USA is in serious jeopardy of losing adequate food growing capacity within 100 years or less due to erosion. 

Biofuel production is helping clog the Mississippi and other rivers with topsoil from our prime growing areas.  In 1850 Iowa prairie soils had about 12-16 inches of topsoil, but now have only about 6-8 inches.  We are continuing to lose Iowa topsoil at a rate of approximately 30 tons of topsoil per hectare per year. Ask biofuel advocates if helping to destroy the ability of future generations to grow food is a worthy environmental goal.
Biofuels require large amounts of nitrogen fertilizers to produce, and the price of fertilizer rose by more than 200% in 2007 alone.  Nitrogen fertilizers are largely made from natural gas, which experienced no significant price gain in 2007, so the main driving force of fertilizer price hyperinflation is undeniably biofuel production. 

Biofuels are pushing up the cost of all foods that require fertilizers, including rice, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli.
Biofuels are a destructive, dead end technology born out of the desires of producers to make money and politicians to get the farm vote.  Science and reason have little to do with the biofuels phenomena.

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Christopher Calder is an advocate for world food supply security with no financial interest in any energy related business.
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