More Backlash Against Biofuels Criticism

Moving a little slow today… thanks for your patience.

There’s more criticism out there of the Berkeley-Cornell study claiming that ethanol and biofuels are energy inefficient. From Associated Press via ClimateArk, a report on the Nebraska Biofuel Renewable Energy Workshop and the criticism expressed of the Pimentel-Patzek report:

“We think it’s a poor study,” said Roger Conway, director, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses.

Conway said, for example, that the study underestimated corn yields and overestimated the cost of growing the crop.

“They used old data, out-of-date data; they used incorrect methodology,” he said.

Tim at The Future is Green gets into the details of the methodologies and assumptions made by Pimentel and Patzek offered in a report from The National Biodiesel Board:

The Board criticized Pimentel and Patzek’s assumptions on energy use. For example, the researchers’ assumption regarding the use of lime does not reflect current farming practices. Lime inputs account for over 36% of the total energy inputs for soybean production in Pimentel and Patzek study. While the use of lime on acidic soils may help improve yields, its use is dependent upon the requirements of the soil and is not a universal input for soybean production. Moreover, in most parts of the country, the use of lime is limited and, if used, is not applied on an annual basis.

The study includes labor as an energy input. Even though the calories consumed by farm workers can be converted to energy equivalents, most researchers do not treat the calories as fossil energy. Labor associated with soybean production has no significant effect on the total number of calories consumed in the United States and calories are not considered to be a scarce resource. Moreover, people must consume food to sustain life, regardless of their occupation.

These are just two of the criticisms offered, and Tim concludes by noting “Given the paucity of data included in the Pimentel and Patzek study, the edge in the argument would seem to be in favor of biodiesel and ethanol at this point.”

And, to round things out, Kelpie Wilson at truthout (via EnergyBulletin.net) examines the broader context of using corn for fuel. Her conclusion:

The ancient European tradition says that the corn mother, dressed in white, could be seen at midnight, flying over the fields and fertilizing them. She would pass by the fields of any farmer who sinned and his corn would wither and die.

The farms of industrial agriculture are not sustainable. When the fossil fuels are gone, their corn will wither and die.

If we still believed in the corn mother, and if we could hear her speak, I believe she would tell us to leave the soda in the can and the SUV on the showroom floor. She would also recommend that we raise less corn and more hell.

At this point, I admit I’m confused. More and more, the players in this debate have obvious interests in promoting their particular point of view. That doesn’t mean their not right — it does, however, make the issue considerably more cloudy. One thing does come to mind — all of this debate centers around producing biofuels from virgin materials. Perhaps the use of used vegetable oil and such would be a mere drop in the bucket, but how does this figure into the debate?

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