Though expanding biofuel production is often lauded as a key strategy for decreasing carbon emissions, a University-based analysis found that the benefits might not be so extensive.
John DeCicco, a research professor at the University’s Energy Institute, reviewed existing studies that evaluated the effectiveness of biofuel as an alternative energy source. He discovered that the variety of computer models used does not accurately represent the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when biofuels are produced.
Though biofuel, an energy source composed from organic or food waste products, has generally been deemed a leading eco-friendly option for reducing gasoline consumption, DeCicco said many of the studies are misleading.
“The government has sponsored computer models which have made a very basic accounting mistake,” he said. “Particularly, they count carbon dioxide uptake as it happens. They completely offset the carbon dioxide admitted when the biofuel is burned.”
DeCicco, however, said his work takes a step back to research fundamental mistakes made when measuring carbon dioxide uptake throughout the decades. His research argues against the assumption that biofuels decrease net carbon dioxide emissions.
Using a field of soybeans as an example, DeCicco talked about how these models fail to recognize that lands are constantly being used for production. Fields previously used to grow food are now providing for biofuel production.
“The computer-analysis methods forget to check what land is doing before it is used to grow soybeans for biofuels,” he said. “They think that the land is completely barren. That’s a very big mistake.”
Consequently, there has been no increase in the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a result of increased biofuel production because the fields were already being used to grow food.
The research paper also highlights the use of carbon footprint models and their incorrect calculations that carbon dioxide emissions are lower with biodiesel than petroleum. The results are inconsistent with the realities of the carbon cycle, causing carbon footprint calculators to incorrectly estimate carbon dioxide uptake by crops like soybeans.
However, DeCicco remains optimistic for the future and believes that scientific critical analyses will help to remove these assumptions.
“I, alongside many researchers around the world, have begun peeling the layers of the onion,” he said. “It’s necessary because the scientific community has made some erroneous decisions.”