A pair of new reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may have finally buried the worldwide push for mass biofuel production. The pair of reports finds that, once everything is factored in, ethanol and other biofuels can actually be worse for the environment than standard petrol products.
The reports, which can be read in full here and here, come to the conclusion that while biofuel production can decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 30% to 90%, there are many other factors to consider. Land and water use, for one, and as well as the increased potential for conflict relating to the whole food-for-fuel debate.
One look at the numbers reveals a startling story. In 2000, over 90% of the U.S. corn crop went to feed people and livestock, with just 5% going towards ethanol production. In 2013, ethanol consumed 40% of the U.S. corn crop, with 45% feeding livestock and just 15% going towards feeding people. Consider also that U.S. produces 40% of the world’s entire corn stock, and you can see how ethanol production is fueling hunger-driven unrest in the developing world.
It’s a bad scene, and the U.N. finally recognizes it.
The new reports are a major reversal from the IPCC’s 2007 report, which called for greater global cooperation towards mass production of ethanol and other biofuels. In recent years though, biofuels have come under fire from both the right and left for massive government subsidies, and not being sustainable or clean enough. Automakers have even joined in the fight, lobbying against an effort to allow some gas stations to carry E15 (or 15% ethanol) gasoline.
With this latest salvo, the already-flagging biofuel industry may have finally been dealt its deathblow. Electric cars have soared in popularity, and a vast investment into improved combustion engine technology has given consumers more fuel efficient options than ever. There are other, non-edible plants that could be used for biofuel production, but it seems like the only real benefit to corn ethanol fuel is for those who want to go really, really fast.
So at least there’s that.