Biofuels OK if ‘done right’

Some of the country’s top biofuels experts, including harsh critics, agree that if "done right" they can be a good solution to multiple problems the industry faces.

In a just-published Science article, scientists from the University of Minnesota, Princeton, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley wrote that recent complaints about biofuels such as corn-based ethanol can be overcome.

“The world needs to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, but recent findings have thrown the emerging biofuels industry into a quandary,” said the U of M’s David Tilman, an ecologist and lead author of the paper. "We met to seek solutions. We found that the next generation of biofuels can be highly beneficial if produced properly.”

Problems with the first generation of biofuels include overuse of some crops such as corn, which has included planting crops on land some say should not be cropped. Also, using corn to produce ethanol, many environmentalists say, requires too much water and energy.

Many also complain that using corn for fuel takes away from livestock feed.

The next generation of biofuels needs to use grasses and other plants that have less impact on the land, the scientists decided. Also, plant residues, wood and waste products should be used to produce fuels, they agreed.

“We need to transition away from using food for biofuels toward more sustainable feedstocks that can be produced with much less impact on the environment,” said the U of M’s Jason Hill.