Saturday, September 22, 2007

Biofuels could increase global warming with laughing gas, says Nobel prize-winning chemist

Growing and burning many biofuel crops may actually raise, rather than lower, greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the conclusion of a new study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, best known for his work on the ozone layer.

He and his colleagues have calculated that growing some of the most commonly used biofuel crops releases around twice the amount of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O, also known as ‘laughing gas’) than previously thought – wiping out any benefits from not using fossil fuels and, worse, probably contributing to global warming.

That's how PhysOrg put it. Here's the Times of London:

*Rapeseed biofuel ‘produces more greenhouse gas than oil or petrol’

* The Canadians thought the name presented a marketing challenge, so they changed it to Canola. Now I 'spose they'll have to go with "Happy, Joy, Joy" or some such.

A renewable energy source designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is contributing more to global warming than fossil fuels, a study suggests.

Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save.

Other biofuels, especially those likely to see greater use over the next decade, performed better than fossil fuels but the study raises serious questions about some of the most commonly produced varieties.

Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised. The research team found that 3 to 5 per cent of the nitrogen in fertiliser was converted and emitted. In contrast, the figure used by the International Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the extent and impact of man-made global warming, was 2 per cent. The findings illustrated the importance, the researchers said, of ensuring that measures designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are assessed thoroughly before being hailed as a solution.

“One wants rational decisions rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon because superficially something appears to reduce emissions,” said Keith Smith, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and one of the researchers


Here's the Crutzen, Smith, Winiwarter & Mosier paper (15 page PDF)