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Biofuels

Global switch to biofuels could spike food prices and harm the environment

Tuesday, October 02, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: biofuels, health news, Natural News


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(NewsTarget) A worldwide spike in biofuels production could do more harm than good if managed improperly, according to a report released by UN-Energy, an interagency body of the United Nations devoted to developing plans for sustainable energy systems, particularly in Third World countries.

The report, "Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers," concludes that biofuels can be beneficial if planned well, but that in the absence of good planning they may lead to serious health, environmental and economic consequences.

The report warns that a widescale expansion of biofuel plantations has resulted in the clearing of old-growth forests, especially in southeast Asia. In addition to all the ecological problems long known to arise from the destruction of such critical habitat, the clearing of forests eliminates ecosystems that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This can lead to a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions, rather than the decrease that biofuels are supposed to deliver.

The report also warns of the health and economic consequences if land is shifted from food to fuel production, as well as the ecological harm that comes from replacing diverse forests with single-species monocultures.

"Use of large-scale mono-cropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching," the report says.

The report concludes that biofuels are much more efficient as a heating rather than a transportation fuel. However, both the United States and the European Union are making a major push for the expansion of plant-based automobile fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

Ethanol is similar to the ingredient known as "alcohol" in alcoholic beverages, and can only be used in engines specially designed to burn it as fuel. Biodiesel is a diesel-equivalent fuel produced from plant oils that can be used in a regular diesel engine.

Although optimistic about the ultimate potential of biofuels, UN-Energy warns that they are not a cure-all.

"Only through a convergence of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and water-use policies can bioenergy find its proper environmental context and agricultural scale," the report says.

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