ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2008) — Turning native ecosystems into "farms" for biofuel crops causes major carbon emissions that worsen the global warming that biofuels are meant to mitigate, according to a new study by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy.
The carbon lost by converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands outweighs the carbon savings from biofuels. Such conversions for corn or sugarcane (ethanol), or palms or soybeans (biodiesel) release 17 to 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels, the researchers said. The carbon, which is stored in the original plants and soil, is released as carbon dioxide, a process that may take decades. This "carbon debt" must be paid before the biofuels produced on the land can begin to lower greenhouse gas levels and ameliorate global warming.
The conversion of peatlands for palm oil plantations in Indonesia ran up the greatest carbon debt, one that would require 423 years to pay off. The next worst case was the production of soybeans in the Amazon, which would not "pay for itself" in renewable soy biodiesel for 319 years.
"We don't have proper incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil and other products but not rewarded for carbon management," said University of Minnesota Applied Economics professor Stephen Polasky, an author of the study. "This creates incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases in carbon emissions.
"This research examines the conversion of land for biofuels and asks the question 'Is it worth it?'," said lead author Joe Fargione, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy. "And surprisingly, the answer is no."
For the full article, please visit: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207140809.htm \\