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