In 2008, the journal Science reports that the production of biofuels such as ethanol and soybean biodiesel actually doubles instead of reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
Producing Biofuels May Worsen, Not Lessen, Carbon Dioxide Emissions
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Los Angeles):
NBC News IN DEPTH tonight, it's about the environment. We've all heard the buzz over biofuels like ethanol. But as our chief environmental correspondent Anne Thompson reports, we've now learned what many hoped would be a solution may really be making things worse.
ANNE THOMPSON reporting:
Biofuels, touted as cleaner burning and better for the environment, today stand accused of actually hurting it instead by adding carbon dioxide, the pollution creating global warming.
Mr. TIMOTHY SEARCHINGER (Princeton University): What we've found is that using corn for ethanol roughly doubles the amount of global warming pollution that you get from driving your car rather than using gasoline.
THOMPSON: Searchinger's study is one of two in the journal Science today that claim biofuels, such as ethanol made from corn, increase greenhouse gas emissions. How? To grow them, farmers need to remove some of nature's best carbon absorbers--soil, trees, shrubs, and grasses--to plant the crops that become biofuels.
Mr. JASON HILL (University of Minnesota): These natural lands are tremendous storers of carbon, and when you clear these lands, you release that carbon into the air.
THOMPSON: Hill says it will take decades--in some cases, even centuries--to undo the damage. For example, to reverse the conversion of Indonesia and Malaysia's peat land rainforest for palm biodiesel, 423 years. Brazil's tropical rainforest for soybean biodiesel, 319 years. America's abandoned farmland for corn ethanol, 48 years. And Brazil's woodlands for sugar cane ethanol, 17 years. These studies have the renewable fuel industry in this country fuming. It says the biodiesel plants grown act as sponges, and more eco-friendly sources such as switchgrass are already in development.
Mr. BOB DINNEEN (Renewable Fuels Association): We're building the foundation today for a more sustainable biofuels industry in the future. And if they were to have their way, we wouldn't be able to do that.
THOMPSON: The study's authors say they're not trying to hurt the industry. Instead they want it to find other sources to ensure biodiesel is less polluting from start to finish. Brian:
WILLIAMS: Anne Thompson with us from New York tonight. Anne, thanks.
We humans emitted 35.9 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2014, mostly from burning coal and natural gas in power plants, making fertilizer and cement, and other industrial processes. If chemists could capture carbon dioxide and turn it into chemical building blocks for other products, the way plants do, says Cornell University chemical engineer Lynden Archer, “carbon dioxide would not be a nuisance anymore, but a gift.”
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