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Published on March 5th, 2008 | by Clayton

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University Funding Pulled For Anti-Biofuel Research

U of MinnesotaThe ethanol industry isn’t the only group up in arms about pervasive negative reporting on biofuels (see yesterday’s post: Ethanol Industry: Jobs Are Better Than Food?).

Two soybean growers’ groups have suspended $1.5 million in funding from the University of Minnesota, due to research showing that biofuels could worsen global warming:

The study, by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman and others, said that dedicating huge amounts of land to grow corn, soybeans, sugarcane and other food crops for fuel could drastically change the landscape and worsen global warming. Farmers in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia and other countries will need to clear forests, grasslands and peat lands on a massive scale to grow more of those crops, according to the research, unleashing far more carbon dioxide from natural vegetation than is saved by the lower emissions of the biofuels.

Is anyone really surprised about this finding? Suspension of the funds appears to be only temporary, until the groups have a chance to meet with the Dean of agricultural science. Jim Palmer, the executive director of the two soybean groups, summed up the situation: “The university hurt the farmers’ feelings, OK? That’s probably the best way to say it.”

Ethanol industry officials also had their say in the matter:

Ethanol industry officials criticized the study as a simplistic analysis that doesn’t include the economic benefits for those who grow biofuel crops or the environmental cost of continuing to rely on petroleum.

“The study was over the top by implying that biofuels were bad,” Palmer said. “Farmers were extremely surprised that it came out, why it came out, and that it came from the University of Minnesota.”

This would certainly be an issue if the University of Minnesota was in the business of promoting biofuels, and not interested in the usual process of scientific review.

The Tilman study was reviewed by independent scientists, a standard procedure, before being published in the journal Science. The report is not “anti-ethanol,” said Tilman in an interview when it was published. It recommends that biofuels be produced in the future from crop waste products such as corn stalks or from perennials such as switchgrass and native prairie plants.

The two soybean groups have a right to fund anything they want, but threatening to pull grant funding for “undesirable” research results may be a bit extreme.

Want to evaluate it for yourself? The study can be found here.

Related Posts:

Ethanol Industry: Jobs Are Better Than Food?

Study: Buying Biodiesel May Be A Gamble

Ethanol Industry Pays Off Subsidies, Boosts U.S. Economy (Bigtime)

Source: Startribune (Feb. 25, 08): U biofuels study has farmers upset

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About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.



  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt

    Dear Mr. Cornell:

    A summary of MY research: Your blog is bad, wastefull and is killing our planet. i just published this online, and held a news conference to announce my findings.

    PS: Please pay me $500 so I can continue my research, please.

    Take a closer look — those studies in Science have been roundly slammed by nationally recognized fuel scientists and even by the US DOE.

  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt

    Dear Mr. Cornell:

    A summary of MY research: Your blog is bad, wastefull and is killing our planet. i just published this online, and held a news conference to announce my findings.

    PS: Please pay me $500 so I can continue my research, please.

    Take a closer look — those studies in Science have been roundly slammed by nationally recognized fuel scientists and even by the US DOE.

  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt
  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt
  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    Bob,

    Thanks for the comment, but I think you miss the important point:

    The issue is really about a special interest group (whether they actually intend to or not) trying to strong-arm academic research. There are plenty of studies showing some biofuels have significant potential for bad effects (and minimal benefits) with respect to climate change.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    Bob,

    Thanks for the comment, but I think you miss the important point:

    The issue is really about a special interest group (whether they actually intend to or not) trying to strong-arm academic research. There are plenty of studies showing some biofuels have significant potential for bad effects (and minimal benefits) with respect to climate change.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    Bob,

    Thanks for the comment, but I think you miss the important point:

    The issue is really about a special interest group (whether they actually intend to or not) trying to strong-arm academic research. There are plenty of studies showing some biofuels have significant potential for bad effects (and minimal benefits) with respect to climate change.

  • R Bouchard

    Bio-fuels were never the “answer” because we can not sustain the amount of fuel we are using by switching to something else. The situation requires that we think differently about energy usage and land management in general. Agriculture is powered by petroleum in planting, spraying of pesticides, cultivation and transportation; we can not use petroleum to plant, water, cultivate and distribute corn for bio-fuel and think that it’ll make a difference. Use the corn for food, phase down the meat industry (a major contributor to pollution and petroleum use) and curb wasteful spending and disposable consumerism.

  • R Bouchard

    Bio-fuels were never the “answer” because we can not sustain the amount of fuel we are using by switching to something else. The situation requires that we think differently about energy usage and land management in general. Agriculture is powered by petroleum in planting, spraying of pesticides, cultivation and transportation; we can not use petroleum to plant, water, cultivate and distribute corn for bio-fuel and think that it’ll make a difference. Use the corn for food, phase down the meat industry (a major contributor to pollution and petroleum use) and curb wasteful spending and disposable consumerism.

  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt

    Point taken. But this was less of a “strongarm” than a shot across the bow. The soy groups just wanted their concerns taken seriously, and they felt that the U wasn’t listening.

    They are now.

  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt

    Point taken. But this was less of a “strongarm” than a shot across the bow. The soy groups just wanted their concerns taken seriously, and they felt that the U wasn’t listening.

    They are now.

  • http://www.cleanairchoice.org Bob Moffitt

    Point taken. But this was less of a “strongarm” than a shot across the bow. The soy groups just wanted their concerns taken seriously, and they felt that the U wasn’t listening.

    They are now.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    @2 R. Bouchard: You’re right that biofuels are no silver bullet, but it’s possible they could substitute for 30% or more of our fuel usage (see posts on Coskata’s cellulosic ethanol and Solazyme’s Algae biodiesel). The other 2/3 will have to come from increases in efficiency and overall reduction in usage.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    @2 R. Bouchard: You’re right that biofuels are no silver bullet, but it’s possible they could substitute for 30% or more of our fuel usage (see posts on Coskata’s cellulosic ethanol and Solazyme’s Algae biodiesel). The other 2/3 will have to come from increases in efficiency and overall reduction in usage.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    @2 Bob: I think that if the University is engaging in faulty research practices, the funding organization has every right to be questioning their monetary involvement. But ‘hurt feelings’ doesn’t seem like a reasonable excuse to take up arms like that – science is going to give you contradictory conclusions, making the bulk of evidence so important.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    @2 Bob: I think that if the University is engaging in faulty research practices, the funding organization has every right to be questioning their monetary involvement. But ‘hurt feelings’ doesn’t seem like a reasonable excuse to take up arms like that – science is going to give you contradictory conclusions, making the bulk of evidence so important.

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    @2 Bob: I think that if the University is engaging in faulty research practices, the funding organization has every right to be questioning their monetary involvement. But ‘hurt feelings’ doesn’t seem like a reasonable excuse to take up arms like that – science is going to give you contradictory conclusions, making the bulk of evidence so important.

  • Pingback: Alternative Fuels Now » University Funding Pulled For Anti-Biofuel Research : Gas 2.0

  • Mike Weaver

    Guess that’s the price you pay for outsourcing your Universities to the highest bidder.

  • Mike Weaver

    Guess that’s the price you pay for outsourcing your Universities to the highest bidder.

  • Mike Weaver

    Guess that’s the price you pay for outsourcing your Universities to the highest bidder.

  • Mike Weaver

    Guess that’s the price you pay for outsourcing your Universities to the highest bidder.

  • Pingback: Biofuels: Energy, Food and People : Gas 2.0

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillers_grains Ugly American

    I have yet to see a single study that mentions that ethanol is only made out of the corn starch. That’s the part of the corn that otherwise would have been made into corn syrup.

    The corn oil, protein, vitamins and minerals are all still available to eat.

    So it’s not just the oil companies that hate ethanol, it’s also the soda and junk food companies. Seriously, check out how much the soda companies hate ethanol and then looks who’s paying for anti-ethanol ‘research’.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillers_grains Ugly American

    I have yet to see a single study that mentions that ethanol is only made out of the corn starch. That’s the part of the corn that otherwise would have been made into corn syrup.

    The corn oil, protein, vitamins and minerals are all still available to eat.

    So it’s not just the oil companies that hate ethanol, it’s also the soda and junk food companies. Seriously, check out how much the soda companies hate ethanol and then looks who’s paying for anti-ethanol ‘research’.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillers_grains Ugly American

    I have yet to see a single study that mentions that ethanol is only made out of the corn starch. That’s the part of the corn that otherwise would have been made into corn syrup.

    The corn oil, protein, vitamins and minerals are all still available to eat.

    So it’s not just the oil companies that hate ethanol, it’s also the soda and junk food companies. Seriously, check out how much the soda companies hate ethanol and then looks who’s paying for anti-ethanol ‘research’.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillers_grains Ugly American

    I have yet to see a single study that mentions that ethanol is only made out of the corn starch. That’s the part of the corn that otherwise would have been made into corn syrup.

    The corn oil, protein, vitamins and minerals are all still available to eat.

    So it’s not just the oil companies that hate ethanol, it’s also the soda and junk food companies. Seriously, check out how much the soda companies hate ethanol and then looks who’s paying for anti-ethanol ‘research’.

  • Pingback: Switchgrass Could Displace 30% of US Petroleum Usage With 94% GHG Reduction : Gas 2.0

  • Pingback: Biodiesel Mythbuster 2.0: Twenty-Two Biodiesel Myths Dispelled : Gas 2.0

  • Jeff

    Joe Jobe is an idiot wining that the gma is blaming bio fuels for the increase in grocery prices. It most certainly is to blame for the rise in price, it may be indirectly through commodity speculators but bio fuels are causing that. Somebody should ask Joe how much money he has made since becoming the head of bio fuels industry council. Don’t get me wrong it is an american write to make all the money you can, but don’t wine if somebody else wants to make some to. What an IDIOT!

  • Jeff

    Joe Jobe is an idiot wining that the gma is blaming bio fuels for the increase in grocery prices. It most certainly is to blame for the rise in price, it may be indirectly through commodity speculators but bio fuels are causing that. Somebody should ask Joe how much money he has made since becoming the head of bio fuels industry council. Don’t get me wrong it is an american write to make all the money you can, but don’t wine if somebody else wants to make some to. What an IDIOT!

  • Jeff

    Joe Jobe is an idiot wining that the gma is blaming bio fuels for the increase in grocery prices. It most certainly is to blame for the rise in price, it may be indirectly through commodity speculators but bio fuels are causing that. Somebody should ask Joe how much money he has made since becoming the head of bio fuels industry council. Don’t get me wrong it is an american write to make all the money you can, but don’t wine if somebody else wants to make some to. What an IDIOT!

  • Will

    People in glass houses, jeff…

    Honestly, though, I think the big giveaway that this isn’t the answer is that we lose energy converting corn into ethanol (I believe it’s something like 40% energy lost in the conversion). It is clear, corn is better left in its food state. The petroleum needs to be substituted, no question, but I don’t think we have that answer today. Biofuels are certainly not going to be sufficient, even with the more efficient sugar cane ethanol.

  • Will

    People in glass houses, jeff…

    Honestly, though, I think the big giveaway that this isn’t the answer is that we lose energy converting corn into ethanol (I believe it’s something like 40% energy lost in the conversion). It is clear, corn is better left in its food state. The petroleum needs to be substituted, no question, but I don’t think we have that answer today. Biofuels are certainly not going to be sufficient, even with the more efficient sugar cane ethanol.

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