Politicians, scientists, and lobby groups who tout biofuels are trying to maintain the status quo of our current energy industry, rather than find the best options for powering our cars and homes. A new study by Marc Z. Jacobsen, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford, finds that biofuels require too much infrastructure and produce too much pollution to compete with wind, water, and sun, and they end up at the bottom of the list when the major alternatives to fossil fuels are ranked for their effectiveness.
Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.
"Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.
For this study, Jacobsen was just studying the effectiveness of using prairie grass to make cellulosic biofuel, which makes it a no-brainer that it would end up at the bottom of the list; prairie grass seems like a lousy material to fuel our cars. But corn-based ethanol is the next-to-worst, andeven if we manage to make biofuel out of something like corn husks or rice hulls, as some scientists are currently researching, biofuels themselves have fundamental problems. They will always produce pollution and they will always require infrastructure to distribute them. That infrastructure is a huge part of the reason why corporations and politicians like biofuels, and it's a huge part of the reason why biofuels will always lag behind wind, water, and sun. The gas companies might not like it, but if we are really serious about fixing our energy issues and reducing pollution, that's how we can make real improvements--not just by switching to a more energy-efficient, less-polluting fuel, but rather by eliminating an entire, wasteful chunk of the energy supply chain as we make that switch.
Wind can make a lot of energy on a really small amount of land, and it can be efficiently transported to our houses through the electrical grid, and he says it's a myth that wind and solar cannot be relied on for a continuous source of energy. (It's also a myth that windmills kill birds. Windmills killed 15,000 birds in the U.S. last year. Housecats are estimated to have killed over million.)
Here is Jacobsen's rankings of the fuels.
Best to worst electric power sources:
- Wind power 2. concentrated solar power (CSP) 3. geothermal power 4. tidal power 5. solar photovoltaics (PV) 6. wave power 7. hydroelectric power 8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
Best to worst vehicle options:
- Wind-BEVs (battery electric vehicles) 2. wind-HFCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) 3.CSP-BEVs 4. geothermal-BEVs 5. tidal-BEVs 6. solar PV-BEVs 7. Wave-BEVs 8.hydroelectric-BEVs 9. a tie between nuclear-BEVs and coal-CCS-BEVs 11. corn-E85 12.cellulosic-E85.