Soil erosion and deforestationEdit

Large-scale deforestation of mature trees (which help remove CO2 through photosynthesis — much better than sugar cane or most other biofuel feedstock crops do) contributes to soil erosion, un-sustainable global warming atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, loss of habitat, and a reduction of valuable biodiversity (both on land as in oceans[1]).[2] Demand for biofuel has led to clearing land for palm oil plantations.[3] In Indonesia alone, over 9,400,000 acres (38,000 km2) of forest have been converted to plantations since 1996. [4]

A portion of the biomass should be retained onsite to support the soil resource. Normally this will be in the form of raw biomass, but processed biomass is also an option. If the exported biomass is used to produce syngas, the process can be used to co-produce biochar, a low-temperature charcoal used as a soil amendment to increase soil organic matter to a degree not practical with less recalcitrant forms of organic carbon. For co-production of biochar to be widely adopted, the soil amendment and carbon sequestration value of co-produced charcoal must exceed its net value as a source of energy.[5]

Some commentators claim that removal of additional cellulosic biomass for biofuel production will further deplete soils.[6]

Impact on water resources Edit

producing one gallon of biofuel requires 10,000 gallons of H2O

Increased use of biofuels puts increasing pressure on water resources in at least two ways: water use for the irrigation of crops used as feedstocks for biodiesel production; and water use in the production of biofuels in refineries, mostly for boiling and cooling.

In many parts of the world supplemental or full irrigation is needed to grow feedstocks. For example, if in the production of corn (maize) half the water needs of crops are met through irrigation and the other half through rainfall, about 860 liters of H2O are needed to produce one liter of ethanol.[7] However, in the United States only 5-15% of the water required for corn comes from irrigation while the other 85-95% comes from natural rainfall.

In the United States, the number of ethanol factories has almost tripled from 50 in 2000 to about 140 in 2008. A further 60 or so are under construction, and many more are planned. Projects are being challenged by residents at courts in Missouri (where water is drawn from the Ozark Aquifer), Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas (all of which draw water from the non-renewable Ogallala Aquifer), central Illinois (where water is drawn from the Mahomet Aquifer) and Minnesota.[8]

For example, the four ethanol crops: corn, sugarcane, sweet sorghum and pine yield net energy. However, increasing production in order to meet the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act mandates for renewable fuels by 2022 would take a heavy toll in the states of Florida and Georgia. The sweet sorghum, which performed the best of the four, would increase the amount of freshwater withdrawals from the two states by almost 25%.[9]

Loss of biodiversity Edit

Critics argue that expansion of farming for biofuel production causes unacceptable loss of biodiversity for a much less significant decrease in fossil fuel consumption. The loss of biodiversity also makes heavy dependence on biofuels very risky by reducing our ability to deal with blights affecting the few important biofuel crops.[10] Food crops have recovered from blights when the old stock was mixed with blight resistant wild strains, but as biodiversity is lost to excessive agriculture, the possibilities for recovering from blights are lost.


Formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other aldehydes are produced when alcohols are oxidized. When only a 10% mixture of ethanol is added to gasoline (as is common in American E10 gasohol and elsewhere), aldehyde emissions increase 40%. Script error Some study results are conflicting on this fact however, and lowering the sulfur content of biofuel mixes lowers the acetaldehyde levels.[1] Burning biodiesel also emits aldehydes and other potentially hazardous aromatic compounds which are not regulated in emissions laws.[2]

Many aldehydes are toxic to living cells. Formaldehyde irreversibly cross-links protein amino acids, which produces the hard flesh of embalmed bodies. At high concentrations in an enclosed space, formaldehyde can be a significant respiratory irritant causing nose bleeds, respiratory distress, lung disease, and persistent headaches.[3] Acetaldehyde, which is produced in the body by alcohol drinkers and found in the mouths of smokers and those with poor oral hygiene, is carcinogenic and mutagenic.[4]

The European Union has banned products that contain Formaldehyde, due to its documented carcinogenic characteristics. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled Formaldehyde as a probable cause of cancer in humans.

Brazil burns significant amounts of ethanol biofuel. Gas chromatograph studies were performed of ambient air in São Paulo, Brazil, and compared to Osaka, Japan, which does not burn ethanol fuel. Atmospheric Formaldehyde was 160% higher in Brazil, and Acetaldehyde was 260% higher.[5]


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