They may be in favour at the White House, but a new report attacks the concept of biofuels being the panacea for either climate change or energy security.

Written by the British-based think tank Science in Society (ISIS), it says that Biofuels have gained prominence from politicians and environmentalists because they are “carbon neutral”, in that they do not add any greenhouse gas into the atmosphere; burning them simply returns to the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that the plants take out when they were growing in the field.

ISIS concludes that biofuels from energy crops cannot substitute for current fossil fuel use. The major constraints are land surface available for growing the crops, crop yield, and energy conversion efficiency, although economics also plays a large role.

“They take up valuable land that should be used for growing food, especially in poor Third World countries” concludes ISIS. “Realistic estimates show that making biofuels from energy crops require more fossil fuel energy than they yield, and do not substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions when all the inputs are accounted for. Furthermore, they cause irreparable damages to the soil and the environment”.

So if biofuels are not the answer – what is?


  • This may, or may not, be the case – i.e. I’ve also seen plenty of stuff suggesting that biofuels, if done carefully, can indeed be part of the solution. I think the big point here is that there is unlikely to ever be any ONE answer.

  • Ride a bicycle to work, for fun, to the store, etc. Mark Twain did it, and wrote a short story about mastering the highwheeler. Riding a bicycle inspired Einstein’s theory of Relativity. In energy equivalent terms, a bicycle and rider gets about 800 miles per gallon of gasoline, with climate neutral emmissions! May sound too easy, it is. JUST DO IT!

    Also, biofuels refined from waste vegetable oil, are the key as they have already been utilized once. Making sure they are refined to high purity is key for successful long term use. Blend them with hybrid technologies and you get an 80 Mile per Gallon hybrid codenamed Enigma, then you only need 25 percent of the fuel to begin with per mile traveled.

  • I certainly don’t know all the answers, but using biofuel reminds me of eating lower on the food chain. Think of all the petrochemicals that go into eating meat! Growing the grain for the beef, fertilizers, etc. At least when we use our corn stove, we’re somewhat lower on the fuel chain. It does take gas for the farmers to harvest, grow, etc., unless they’re using horses! There is also the issue that the corn could be grown for food, but if the planet all became vegetarian and used biofuels, seems to me that would be a huge saving. We love our corn stove, and are happy that our gas bill is now only for our hot water (which we intend to change also).

  • Biofuels are not a silver bullet. However they are a viable substitute fuel. Moving in the direction of alternatives will bring about changes in perception and manifest other products and processes that will have impact a nation’s economy, agriculture, labor resources, foreign exchange, balance of payments, ecology, etc.. The list goes on and on.

    Our appetite for energy is vast and burgeoning. Biofuels will be an important part of what must be a multi-faceted solution.

  • I would like to add my voice to the collective who believe the following: a diverse energy solution is needed; not a “one-size-fits-all.” This is precisely what has happened with fossil fuels, and if things do not change swiftly, we are going to be very familiar with what it means to be addicted to a finite fuel source. From my layman perspective, it seems reasonable and logical to promote and utilize passive forms of energy (such as solar and wind) by incorporating these things within the architecture and construct of any new building, complex and community. I would be interested to know the net energy savings should this become commonplace. I understand that a transition period moving away from fossil fuels may be protracted, but I also believe that more fuel efficient alternatives exist (and have existed for some time) but that for exclusively economical considerations, these solutions have been obfuscated. Short-term gain has won over long term prosperity. I look forward to learning more through your website.

  • I agree with Steve, and go further. It is precisely our looking for ONE answer that causes so many of our problems. The Zapatistas say “One NO and many YESES.” We need to find answers that make sense in our communities and waste vegetable oil, biodiesel, alcohol and other combustables may have advantages for some. In making an intelligent decision about how to change, we need to not come from the perspective of crossing things off just because, for example, they might not work in the “third world.”

    So, a decision I have made is to use biodiesel and waste vegetable oil whenever I can, but to make sure that it is from crops grown in my state. As I learn more, I may change my decisions.

  • I’d agree with some of the opinions biofuels will most likely play a significant role in a diversifieid fuel portfolio, which could comprise other renewables such as solar, wind, nuclear etc…

    Also, recent developments in biodiesel have shown that biodiesel could be derived from certain strains algae, and since the yield of algal biodiesel is over 200 times that for traditional oilseeds feedstock, theoretically it will actually be possible to replace a large chunk of petrodiesel with biodiesel if the actual engineering part of biodiesel from algae works out with the economics being right

    Some more info on biodiesel from algae @


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