The aggressive, worldwide production of cellulosic ethanol could both “contribute substantially to future global-scale energy needs” and have “significant unintended environmental consequences” says a study from MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
Producing cellulosic ethanol from non-food feedstocks has been studied extensively at a local scale, but it’s difficult to estimate the environmental impacts on larger, heterogeneous regions. In this study, researchers evaluated two potential consequences of diverting usable land to biofuel production: either existing agricultural operations are intensified, or large areas of natural forest are cleared to increase cropland. Sound familiar?
Could cellulosic ethanol cause more harm than good? As always, it depends on how it’s actually implemented:
Cellulosic biofuels may yet serve as a crucial wedge in the solution to the climate change problem, but must be deployed with caution so as not to jeopardize biodiversity, compromise ecosystems services, or undermine climate policy.
See the 34-page study for more: Unintended Environmental Consequences of a Global Biofuels Program
Image Credit: vsz via Flickr under Creative Commons License.