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Biofuel Production Threatens Air Quality and Crop Yields, Study Finds

Science & Tech  (tags: climate, CO2emissions, conservation, destruction, energy, environment, healthconditions, humans, pollution, protection, trees, world, babies, death, research, protection, science, safety, risks, study, warning, prevention, investigation, illness, governme )

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Report warns large-scale cultivation of trees for renewable wood fuel would emit high levels of the chemical isoprene


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JL A (281)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 4:43 pm

Biofuel production threatens air quality and crop yields, study finds

Report warns large-scale cultivation of trees for renewable wood fuel would emit high levels of the chemical isoprene

Reuters, Monday 7 January 2013 07.25 EST

Eucalyptus Forest in Barra do Riacho , Brazil
Eucalyptus plantations in Brazil. Poplar, willow or eucalyptus trees emit high levels of the chemical isoprene as they grow. Photograph: Paulo Fridman/Corbis

Fighting climate change by producing more biofuels could actually worsen a little-known type of air pollution and cause almost 1,400 premature deaths a year in Europe by 2020, according to a new study.

The report said trees grown to produce biofuel - seen as a cleaner alternative to oil and coal - release a chemical into the air that, when mixed with other pollutants, could also reduce farmers' crop yields.

"Growing biofuels is thought to be a good thing because it reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," said Nick Hewitt, who worked on the study with colleagues from Lancaster University, UK. "What we're saying is 'yes, that's great, but biofuels could also have a detrimental effect on air quality'."

The report, in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked into the impact of a European Union scheme to slow climate change by producing more biofuels.

Hewitt told Reuters there would be a similar impact wherever biofuels were produced in large quantities in areas suffering air pollution, including the United States and China.

Poplar, willow or eucalyptus trees, all used as fast-growing sources of renewable wood fuel, emit high levels of the chemical isoprene as they grow, the study said. Isoprene forms toxic ozone when mixed with other air pollutants in sunlight.

"Large-scale production of biofuels in Europe would have small but significant effects on human mortality and crop yields," said Hewitt. "As far as we know, no one has looked at the air quality of growing biofuel crops before."

The report estimated that ozone from wood-based energy to meet the European Union's 2020 goal would cause nearly 1,400 premature deaths a year, costing society $7.1bn. The European plan would also would reduce the annual value of wheat and maize production by $1.5bn since ozone impairs crop growth, the study added.

Siting new biofuel plantations far away from polluted population centres would help limit ozone formation, the study suggested. Genetic engineering might be used to reduce isoprene emissions, it said.

Ozone can cause lung problems and is blamed for killing about 22,000 people a year in Europe. Overall air pollution, mainly from fossil fuels, causes about 500,000 premature deaths in Europe a year, according to the European Environment Agency.

The study did not compare the potential damage caused by biofuels to the impact on human health from producing coal, oil or natural gas as part of policies to slow global warming. "We're not in a position to make that comparison," Hewitt said.

He noted that the main reason to shift to biofuels was to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels, that UN studies project will become ever more damaging this century.

The United Nations' World Health Organisation estimates global warming has caused more than 140,000 deaths annually worldwide since the 1970s.

The biggest impact was recorded in developing nations where the floods, droughts and other disasters blamed on climate change left millions suffering from diarrhoea, malnutrition, malaria and dengue fever.

Burning biofuels is viewed as neutral for climate change because plants soak up carbon when they grow and release it when they burn or rot. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, add carbon to the atmosphere from underground stores millions of years old.

Biofuels are often blamed for causing food price spikes by competing for cropland. Responding to such criticisms, the European commission said in 2012 it aimed to limit crop-based biofuels - such as from maize or sugar - to 5% of transport fuels.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 5:21 pm

Crop based bio-fuels are just another in a long line of temporary so called solutions to the long term problems. I began reading up on this when it was first introduced. It's awful that the media spends so much time on sensational stories and so little time explaining actual facts to people. This should come as no surprise to those who follow the global warming situation and the many things that are attributes of that catastrophe. This is good information for those who have not read up on this and many other things about the threats we face. Thanks J L.

JL A (281)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 5:25 pm
Thanks for framing the context for this information Kit. You are welcome. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last week.

JL A (281)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 6:01 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

Past Member (0)
Wednesday January 9, 2013, 11:25 pm
Noted, thanks J.L.

Giana P (398)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:07 am
Your damned if you do and your damned if you don't...which action is the most productive and has the better results? In the long run or in the short run? How many years does this earth have to survive anyway? Maybe it's the short term solutions which should interest us?

JL A (281)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 8:32 am
You are welcome Natalie. You cannot currently send a star to Giana because you have done so within the last week.

. (0)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 9:12 am
Biofuels always remind me of the carbon credit scam. Big Lizard Gore was a prime advocate for both.

Nancy M (147)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 12:37 pm
We need bio-fuels from cellulosic wastes. Landfill type waste too. We also need to look at WHAT the fuel is. Ethanol is not all that great. We could and should be harvesting the methane from landfills and cattel/dairy farms.

Suzanne L (92)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 3:28 pm
So many factors to consider as we struggle along with energy production. TY JL

Lois Jordan (63)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 4:27 pm
Great info, J.L. Thank you. I guess The Powers That Be will decide which is most cost-effective for them; call me a cynic when I say that I don't think they care about the number of people that are poisoned so they can make more money.

JL A (281)
Thursday January 10, 2013, 9:41 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Suzanne because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Lois because you have done so within the last week.

Kerrie G (116)
Friday January 11, 2013, 9:33 am
Noted, thanks.

JL A (281)
Friday January 11, 2013, 12:15 pm
You are welcome Kerrie.

Melania P (123)
Monday January 14, 2013, 10:39 am

JL A (281)
Monday January 14, 2013, 10:46 am
You are welcome Melania
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