Time Blasts Biofuels

The cover story in the current issue of Time Magazine calls biofuels a “clean energy scam.” The article uses information from several new studies that show how grown fuels, like ethanol and biodiesel, are actually accelerating global warming—mostly through deforestation—and otherwise reeking havoc with the environment and world food markets.

Time points to a number of new studies which reveal these facts:

1. The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year.

2. Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all current carbon emissions.

3. Brazil now ranks fourth in the world in carbon emissions, and most of its emissions come from deforestation

4. Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that it now ranks third among the world’s top carbon emitters, according to Wetlands International.

5. The U.S. quintupled its production of ethanol in the past decade, and Washington has just mandated another fivefold increase in renewable fuels over the next decade.

6. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says that biofuels pit the 800 million people with cars against the 800 million people with hunger problems. The U.N.’s World Food Program calls the rising costs for food nothing less than a global emergency.

7. A study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline.

8. Last year fewer than 2 percent of U.S. gas stations offered ethanol, and the country produced 7 billion gallons of biofuel, which cost taxpayers at least $8 billion in subsidies.

9. University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman concluded that it will take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to “pay back” the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat lands to grow palm oil; clearing grasslands to grow corn for ethanol has a payback period of 93 years.

10. Even next-generation cellulosic ethanol “looks less green than oil-derived gasoline.”

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  • Shines

    Yep, Ethanol is not the way to become energy independent.
    But cereal sure has come down in price. Honey Bunches of Oats (which is mostly corn) can be had for $1.20 a box on certain sales. You think they’re feeding us the “Whole Grain” byproducts of ethanol production? I do.

  • Armand

    Humans are stupid…plain and simple….the sooner we put ourselves out of our sorry existence, the better for all.

  • steved28

    The answer is simple, reduce the need for ALL liquid fuels. It doesn’t matter if it’s oil, or biofudge, reduce or dependency on the stuff and the market for it will go down. Why does our government keep going off in tangents when the answer is right in front of them? Wait, I already know the answer…

  • Atkins JD

    I think the first one says it all “the grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year”. So do we really need an SUV which gets the similar mileage, but runs on ethanol? There are choices, we just need to pay the true costs at the pump and then we will make them.


    I would rather breathe through a tailpipe from a tank filled with ethanol than gasoline, any day! Cellulosic ethanol is truly a viable alternative for a world that needs to do something NOW! With all the incentives for research, by the time a truly viable solution comes along, we will have moved on from ethano to the next thing. After all, we are training bacteria to produce Hydrogen, maybe that will be our next frontier.

    The real truth is we need to advance into new frontiers beyond fossil fuel.

  • uktiger

    Hey, I have an idea lets burn the food. When that runs out we can burn the kittens and puppies.

    Dick Cheney

  • Riktok

    I think chevy is the worst! They say that E85 fuel is better for the enviornment but its not and their doing nothing about it! American car companies need to get off their butt and check this out!

  • amer1

    I think they need to bring back the Electric car. Improve this vehicle and build it to go a longer distance. They need to have more places to plug it up. Instead of having places to fill your tank with gasoline which in due time is going to kill us all. Stop the Ethanol so people won’t starve. I would rather my electric to go up then to die from politics getting rich at my expense.

  • M

    I totally agree, although that would mean you and I are stupid. I am though, a Humanist and an environmentalist, so I do believe we can use our intelligence for the better, and not just for our immediate benefit. What amazes me, is that millions of people will go to church and believe in magical things, but they will not believe there is something wrong with the way we live, and even less do something about it.

  • moishe k

    So Y didn’t U commit suicide ??????????????

  • John V

    Why does everyone always say that we need to reduce our dependencies on fuel? The average Internal Combustion (IC) engine runs at 15-20% fuel efficiency. That means 80-85% of the fuel is wasted as heat & vibration. Say that the IC efficiency was 60% & the fuel was “homemade”from the waste from the kitchen table & septic. Then what? The technology has been there for fifty plus years. Anyone can do it. Exxon’s profits alone could buy the vehicles needed for everyone in the US. How about this: we look in the mirror & look at what stops us from going forward with ANY of it? GREED & JEALOUSY! “I can’t make a dime at it, so I’m not having it & YOU can’t either!” It’s the crab hamper problem: as the first crab is about to climb out of the hamper the next pulls him back in. So why reduce?

  • Fred Linn

    These “studies” are pure hog poop. The deforestation of the Amazon for agriculture was going on LONG before ethanol was ever thought of. Brazil supplies 45% of its energy needs with sugar cane grown on 1% of its agricultural land. Blame McDonalds and Burger King for deforestation. Which is where the product of most of the deforested land is going.

    You can tweek studies to give any kind of statistics you want. Well let’s take quick look. Most coal is strip mined. Strip mining not only destroys cropland for now. It destroys it as cropland in the future for thousands of years. You can barely get grass to grow on strip mined land, let alone a forest.

    According to the US Department of energy, the BTUs needed to produce one BTU of energy from corn ethanol is .73. The energy to produce one BTU from petroleum gasoline is 1.23—when you put 10 gallons of gas in your car you are actully using 22.3. Not only that, this number is going to go up very quickly and soon, older fields served by pipeline are rapidly depleting and there is going to be growing need to use imported oil transported half way around the world. Rising energy production needs.

    Come to Breaking The Chains for more answers.


  • Fred Linn

    Cellulosic ethanol was being produced in the US from logging and milling wood waste from the 1890’s to 1920, when it was put out of business by the Volstead Act(making the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcohol illegal–Prohibition). It is not a new or undevelope technology, it was being done commercially over 100 years ago.

    Home appliances ran on alcohol in the late 19th century, stoves, lights, irons, hair curlers, washing machines, water heaters(built into stoves) just about everything. And that continued to be the norm in rural areas without electricity until REA(Rural Electrification Administration), in the 1930’s & 40’s.

    The original Model T Ford was built to run on alcohol which was much cheaper and widely available than gasoline.

    Indy type race cars must use ethanol, nothing new, they have or over 35 years—it is a better high performance fuel than gasoline.

    The German Wehrmacht ran it’s entire war machine on alcohol produced from wood and coal in the last half of World War 2, due to limited access to oil. This included, 140 metric ton Panzer tanks, V1 and V2 rockets, and the Me 268 Swallow–the worlds first operational jet fighter—which was possible because alcohol is a better fuel than gasoline which the allies were useing tryiing to get their jets into the air.

    Breaking The Chains

  • John V


    You’re absolutely correct! That’s why they used to call it “wood alcohol” & it can be made cheaply from hemp, wood, okra stalks &/or yard rakings. The IC engine can get MUCH better fuel economy (25-35% BETTER) running Ethanol; however, to achieve this the engine must have a higher a compression rate or supercharger. THAT’S why flex fuel vehicles get such CRAPPY gas mileage! They are made to run 87 octane instead 93 or 101 to show the public that it isn’t viable.

    This link shows what media company owns what.

  • JG

    We can burn corn for fuel and the OPEC nations can eat their oil. Seems like a fair solution to our problems.

  • mdensch

    “That’s why they used to call it ‘wood alcohol’ “

    –Actually, the term wood alcohol refers to methanol, not ethanol. The molecule is slightly different and it is highly toxic if consumed.

  • Emiller

    Ok so ethanol can be produced using only the “waste” part of the corn stalk (or any other food plant) so really no one will go hungry

  • Charles

    Indy cars run on 90% methanol.

    Just to let you know, gasoline has more BTUs per gallon (125K/gallon) then ethanol (85K/gallon) and ethanol has more BTUs then methanol (65K/gallon). The reason the race cars use methanol is that it runs at a much richer mixture, so that you have more energy in the air fuel mix. Gasoline/air mix has the least amount of energy of the three. Both alcohols have much higher octane ratings, allowing for higher compression, which is very important to a race engine.

  • eddie

    Hmmm. I think there are a few problems with some of these …
    2. Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all current carbon emissions.
    3. Brazil now ranks fourth in the world in carbon emissions, and most of its emissions come from deforestation.
    FURTHER, THERE WAS A STUDY THAT FOUND “…switchgrass ethanol can deliver around 540 percent of the energy used to produce it, as opposed to corn ethanol which can only yield around 24 percent.”
    7. A study in Science concluded that when this deforestation effect is taken into account, corn ethanol and soy biodiesel produce about twice the emissions of gasoline.

  • Eric2

    I said it in the past, I say it now, and I will say it in the future:


    With all of the fast food joints around the nation, why not take that waste grease and turn it into biofuels…

  • steved28
  • simon@aus

    I sense a whole lot of hog here – ‘a fuel tank = a person for a year’ – very neat, too neat.

    But probably trueish all the same.

    Need to do something more clever in what to harvest to get the ethanol – modified birch? algae?


    I think every major oil(petroeum) company and every saudi,kuwaiti or iranian minister -politician would agree with TIME’s statements,

    a whole lot of hog here – ‘a fuel tank = a person for a year’ – very neat, too neat . . .

  • Larry Kirkeby

    No offense but who told you ethanol was better. It is a molecule with one less hydrogen atom at the beginning. This is like already partially burned gas. Its just cheap gas only its not cheap.


  • Brad

    Do you really think Time magazine is unbiased and not influenced by Big Oil’s attempt to discredit alcohol fuels until they have pumped the last drop out of the ground? The American Petroleum Institute has targeted alcohol for a campaign of dis-information and discredit. Why? Because they know it doable right now and it scares them to death that their mega profits will plummet if the public pressure gets behind alcohol. Big OIl has ruled the country, if not world, with fear and intimidation and reaped mega profits all along the way.

    The trillions of dollars spent by the US on grabbing the last Middle-East oil in Bush’s dirty little war could have converted the country to alcohol production with change left over.

    Read bio-systems ecologist David Blume’s book, “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”. He is the father of the modern alcohol fuel movement. David had a series of PBS programs produced and ready to air in 1983 on switching to alcohol fuels. A single phone call to KQED in San Francisco by Chevron Oil killed the series and secured big corporate sponsorship for KQED at a time when government finding of public broadcasting was drying up.

    Deforestation can be addressed.

    That little quote in Time about using food (wheat) to make fuel is pure B.S. meant to put doubt in the public’s mind about the need to get off oil right now. This is how the API’s public relations campaign to discredit alcohol works. They did the same thing with the global warming issue by finding a bunch of controversial Quack experts to say that global warming wasn’t really human caused by our greenhouse gas emissions.

    World hunger is not a matter of enough food being grown. It is a matter of distribution, who controls the wealth and politics. We saw that in Somalia when poor people were dying and all the food they needed to survive sat unable to be delivered because of a bunch of warlords.

    Alcohol can be made from any carbohydrate, anywhere in the world. The amount of green waste (grass and plant prunings) generated by US landscaping could make tons of alcohol fuel. The energy output vs input can be staggering. In Brazil they are making alcohol with a ratio of 8 units of output for every 1 unit of input.

    Biodiesel is not the answer. If all the oil crops currently grown in the US were used to make biodiesel it would only be 2% of the amount of petrol diesel used, but no oil for french fries or fried chicken – hahaha. An acre of land can produce much more alcohol than veggie oil for biodiesel. Alcohol can also be used in certain diesel engines with modifications.

    Alcohol production is ideally suited for a co-op system of investor/consumers working with farmer/producers. Big corporations are not needed to do this. Models of the system are already quietly working in this country.

    You say you want a revolution? Alcohol fuel will be a battle in the near future that will need help if the Big OIl corporations are to be beaten and the public interest preserved. And the planet will reap immense benefits too.

  • CommonSenseApproach

    Thats right, Humans are an infestation of the Planet Earth and We are not worthy of existence. You’ve proven the point that Environmentalism is birthed out of Socialism, Liberalism, and Marxism – all are tied together with the theme of genocide, euthanasia, suicide for the “benefit of The Cause” – Hitler and Jim Jones is the first thing that comes to my mind. The cause Man made Global Warming…no no Climate Change.

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    Custom Peptide Synthesis

  • wing

    Time Blasts Biofuels~so terrible

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