Wednesday, January 30, 2008

the biofuel buzz

As some recent posts will attest, people from politicians to scientists, moviemakers, farmers, and college students are talking a lot about biofuels. Last weekend's Sundance Film Festival was opened by Fields of Fuel (, a film created by Josh Tickell. (Tickell wrote the now classic book _From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank_ about running diesel engines with wast vegetable oil (WVO), and also raised awareness touring the country in his colorful WVO Winnebago van).

Press coverage of biofuels tends to oversimplify and is often misleading. Amidst the excitement about biofuels as a potential alternative to fossil fuels, it's important to look objectively at all their far-reaching implications for sustainability, including carbon budgets, food availability, and even habitat conservation.

Here's an article to complement Mick's earlier post, this one coauthored by David Tilman, a leading ecologist at the U. of Minnesota. It gives an overview of the energy budgets, environmental and economic effects of producing ethanol from corn and biodiesel from vegetable oils. Take a look -- you may be surprised!

I also have copies of the primary scientific literature on which this story is based. If you're interested, I'd be happy to share the papers or talk more with you.

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