Minnesota Project releases biofuels study

By Craig A. Johnson | August 10, 2009
Report posted Aug. 26, 2009 at 9:01 a.m. CST

The Minnesota Project released a study titled "Transportation Biofuels in the United States: An Update," which details the progress made in cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol research, and discusses biofuels generally. The study focuses on four main cellulosic feedstocks, including: corn stover, miscanthus, switchgrass and wood.

Dealing with many of the most divisive issues in the public debate over ethanol, the report specifically rebuts claims made in energy efficiency, land use theory and food versus fuel, soil and water, invasive species versus native species and monoculture versus polyculture.

Bringing to light facts about biofuels, the study notes a University of Nebraska Lincoln study that found that for every unit of fossil energy input, 1.5 to 1.8 units of energy are created in the form of ethanol. The study also points out that replacing natural gas with biomass combined heat and power facilities dramatically improves the energy ratio.

According to the Minnesota Project's report, the ubiquitous food versus fuel debate highlights the conflation of entangled facts that make two separate issues seem like corollaries. In 2007 and 2008, along with rising inflation, corn prices were constantly increasing, leading casual observers to conclude that the price increase was caused by ethanol production. Citing the Congressional Budget Office, the study stated "the rise in price of corn resulting from expanded ethanol production contributed between 0.5 and 0.8 percentage points of the 5.1 percent increase in food prices over that time."

Along with food versus fuel, opponents of ethanol legislation indirect land use change theory as another thorny issue in the public's perception. The Minnesota Project concludes that, "For the sake of effectively addressing global warming, we must have accurate analysis of the total carbon impact of biofuels. Just as ignoring some components' contributions to carbon emissions would limit the effectiveness of biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so too would overestimating the carbon impact of biofuels production by inhibiting the growth of replacement fuels for petroleum and transportation fuels."

The full report is available at http://www.mnproject.org/pdf/TMP_Transportation-Biofuels-Update_Aug09.pdf

The Minnesota Project is a nonprofit organization that promotes the sustainable production and equitable distribution of energy and food in communities across Minnesota.