Biofuel prospects muddled

Biofuel boosters have admitted that what we really need is cellulosic conversion — turning the bulk of plants like corn, not to mention inedible plants, into ethanol rather than relying on their seeds. Now comes news from the USDA that to do so threatens the soil in which those biofuels will grow. If farmers harvest the stovers, or corn stalks, rather than leaving them on the land, they risk depleting the organic matter in the soil in addition to severe soil erosion. That cuts the value of maize for ethanol even more.

Meanwhile, carries a long report on the recent FAO meeting on biofuels. FAO tried very hard to be balanced:

Joseph Schmidhuber, Senior Economist at FAO’s Agricultural Development and Economics Division, explained that the impact of the new bioenergy market on food security could be negative or positive, depending on whether a country’s economy was a net exporter or importer of food and energy. The same held true at household level, indicating that the rural landless and the urban poor were most at risk, and special measures would be needed to protect both countries and groups.

Everything is possible, no? But I find it hard hard to conclude that the emphasis on turning food for people into fuel for cars and trucks will be a good thing on balance.

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