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Biofuel billions

Biofuels will serve the interests of large industrial groups rather than helping to cut carbon emissions and ward off climate change, according to research to be published in the International Journal of Environment and Health this month.

Interesting post on Jo Nova's site:

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Reader Comments (33)

Bishop could you have a day off - I can't keep up with all these threads:)

Oct 13, 2012 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Al get your Tax Returns out.

Oct 13, 2012 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I have asked a genuine question in the comments on that post - #7. It's attracted quite a nice little discussion, but no real answer (yet). Can anyone here provide a definitive answer?

Oct 13, 2012 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve C

Steve C, you are asking,

Do these biofuel producers have some magic way of fermenting the sugar into alcohol without producing CO2?

I would guess biofuels are classed as carbon-neutral, not carbon-free. In other words their use has no net effect on CO2 levels. So the answer to your question is, "probably not, but it doesn't matter".

Oct 13, 2012 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

I'm glad this is only light blogging. Like SandyS I couldn't keep up with serious posting.

Oct 13, 2012 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Would you like to explain that, please?
Over what period of time do the CO2 input and the CO2 output have to balance to make something "carbon neutral" and would it be reasonable to point out (just in case it has slipped your mind) that there is no living thing on this planet that is carbon-free?
The science of fermentation is well known and well understood. The process of converting sugar to alcohol releases CO2. As does the combustion of coal and oil. So explain the difference.
Presumably your argument is that the corn has already absorbed the same amount of CO2 as it releases in the fermentation process. Are you sure about that? And if the coal has sequestered the same amount of CO2 as it releases in the combustion process, is that not the same thing?

Oct 13, 2012 at 4:57 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I agree with BitBucket. If you don't concern yourself with the relative amounts of stuff at various phases of the process, but just think in terms of balancing the chemical equations involved -- from photosynthesis to combustion -- it's apparent that carbon is conserved on the whole.

It must not be overlooked that converting a forest containing a large amount of fixed carbon, into a biofuel field, in which the carbon reverts to near zero at the end of each growing season, results in an overall increment in atmospheric CO2. Such an observation does not apply to land previously cultivated, though.

Oct 13, 2012 at 4:58 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

Where CO2 is now classed as a pollutant (coming to a shore near you soon), it therefore falls into regulation whatever the source, n'est-ce pas?.

Oct 13, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

BitBucket - I have an uneasy feeling that your account is what would be offered as justification. It still seems wrong to me that you can release bucketfuls (no pun intended) of CO2 in the production of a less effective (but "Good") biofuel without any penalty, just by insisting that it's a "carbon-neutral" process. As Mike correctly points out, all carbon was, and is, part of the long term carbon cycle anyway.

A subsidiary question I didn't think of at Jo's is: what about the (approx. 20x as evil) methane released when you plough the unproductive part of the crop back into the soil and it rots? Presumably that, too, would be "permissible pollution", as it's all in the name of "Good" biofuels. It's so hard to second-guess green mathematics.

Oct 13, 2012 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve C

Off topic Bish but did anyone hear Harrabin last night on the World Service (I think, perhaps it was fivelive) where he was talking about the marine protection zones? He finished his piece talking about the great coral reef and told us all that they were disappearing because of farming runoff. I was astonished! I thought it was climate change which caused their demise. I'll try to locate the link to the report.

Oct 13, 2012 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul


I would guess biofuels cannot be classed as carbon neutral if they are cultivated using artificial fertilisers.

Oct 13, 2012 at 6:10 PM | Registered CommenterDreadnought

Steve C, imagine you suck CO2 from the atmosphere to fill a huge balloon. The CO2 content of the atmosphere will now be slightly lower. Then a few months later you burst the balloon. The CO2 content of the atmosphere will return more or less to the starting point. The plants or algae and the fuel they produce are the balloon; burning the fuel is bursting the balloon. The process is neutral with respect to CO2 levels over the timescale of the operation.

Now imagine an enormously bigger balloon and the same process, filling the balloon with atmospheric CO2 over millions of years. Then after many more millions of years, you burst the balloon. What do you think happens to atmospheric CO2 levels? The balloon is coal, oil and gas; bursting the balloon is burning the fuels within a few human lifetimes. The process might or might not be neutral over geological timescales but over human timescales it is not.

On methane, I can't see how it can be omitted from calculations of harmfulness. For algal methods of production, we might guess or hope that there is little methane produced, and I imagine there are no (or few) fertilisers to add to the equation. For cellulosic methods (eg corn stover) the fertiliser is there to get a good food crop; the stover is a by-product; methane would probably be produced if we did not use the stover for fuel. Food-based biofuels (eg corn) are an abomination...

Oct 13, 2012 at 7:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

@Bitbucket: Are you telling us, seriously, that in the last, what, 160 years, that we have released many times more years' of CO2 sequestration into the atmosphere? That being the case, maybe you can tell us what they correct level of CO2 ought to be.

Oct 13, 2012 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket


Re Balloon analogy, very good, but using that analogy and extending the period to say 9000 years, not even a blink of an eye in the current iceage cycle is it OK to burn peat for fuel? As the areas in Scotland and Northern Europe now rich is that resource were under ice, quite thick ice, 10,000years or so ago.

Re Corn Stover, round this way (Central France) all corn fields are completely cleared by very large machines. These fields were previously grazed by sheep and cows. I assume the nutrients have to be replaced artificially.

Oct 13, 2012 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

@ BitBucket 7:07 PM - the balloon analogy.

If Steve C fills a balloon with CO2 taken from the air, then later bursts that balloon, the CO2 is simply returned into the air.

If Steve C burns a hydrocarbon fuel, the CO2 product of the chemical reaction is added to the air.

Oct 13, 2012 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public


Damage to the Great Barrier Reef is blamed on cyclones (48%), Crown of Thorns starfish (42%) and coral bleaching (10%).

The starfish are native and feed off the coral but are in unusually large numbers - probably caused by nutrient run-off from sugar farms.

The coral bleaching is thought to be caused by warmer water temperatures. Maybe a few more wind farms and solar panels will fix that...

Keep up the good work Bish!


Oct 13, 2012 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterCommentFromOz


"The starfish are native and feed off the coral but are in unusually large numbers - probably caused by nutrient run-off from sugar farms."

How does that work if their diet is coral? Surely nutrient runoff has no effect on Crown of Thorns starfish, I could beleive a detrimental effect though. However if the nutrients are causing additional coral growth then there is no real problem?

Oct 13, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

SandyS, the nutrients in the farm run-off are thought to be beneficial to the starfish larvae, allowing more of them to survive and hence increasing the starfish population. Or so I heard...

Oct 13, 2012 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


As BitBucket says, the report I linked to suggests that there are higher survival rates for COT starfish larvae in nutrient-rich waters (run-off from farms). The larvae feed off phytoplankton which thrive in the presence of the nutrients.

Best to look at the report if you're interested. My take-home from this is that we can't do much about the main culprit (cyclones) but we maybe could for the next lowest hanging fruit, COT starfish. The bit attributed to warming water seems small - the point that Paul made above.

Oct 13, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterCommentFromOz

BitBucket, CFO
But in the scheme things unless we have killed off the predators of starfish larvae there will be a boom in that population eventually? Best leave nature to handle things.

What about my peat question?

Oct 14, 2012 at 7:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Given that biofuels reduce the amount of food that is grown in a huge way, it's kind of funny reading this....

"UN warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013"
• Global grain reserves hit critically low levels
• Extreme weather means climate 'is no longer reliable'
• Rising food prices threaten disaster and unrest.

And then big money rears its head again.....

"GM food: we can no longer afford to ignore its advantages"
To alleviate some of the worst dangers from the looming food crisis, we must tap into the rich potential of genetic modification

The road to hell and all that.....

Oct 14, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Unregistered Commenterfretslider

Sandy, I'd say peat has more in common with the coal/oil/gas balloon (created once over a long period) than with the biofuels balloon (created repeatedly over months or years). Wouldn't you? Hence it should be treated like coal etc. It also represents a rich ecosystem that, once destroyed, cannot be replaced, which again implies preservation. Those who believe that "the world is there for us to reap as we will", as some here do, will not consider ecological system as assets worth preserving.

On COT starfish and "Best leave nature to handle things.", my guess would be that the people of Oz would prefer action to save the reefs. The gains from sugar farms that cause runoffs go to a few; the loss of the reef would be a tragedy for all.

Oct 14, 2012 at 2:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Walter Starck has some interesting comments re: Great Barrier Reef in Quadrant Online here:

Oct 14, 2012 at 5:32 PM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Actually apart from the surface a peat bog is a very sterile place (anaerobic and acidic), google Lindow Man, and Danish Bog burials for confirmation. So as long as you replace the turf at the top and take care about drainage then all should be well for the flora and fauna.

Now, so 12 months is good, and 9000 years is bad. How about wood? Is 25 year old wood acceptable, 100 year old, 500 year old oak (ignoring the fact 500 year old may well have a preservation order)?

Also I remember reading about Crown of Thorns starfish eating the Great Barrier Reef in pre-internet days#, it's taking them a long time to complete the task, or is this a second or third coming? I'm old enough to realise that things go in cycles, at bit like being stuck on the rim of a cartwheel, sometimes you're in the sunshine and sometimes you're in the sh*t. BTW what percentage of the reef was surveyed?

#I'm also old enough to remember reading that all the elephants in Tsavo were dieing of starvation and also that the population of elephants in Tsavo was too great and all the Acacia trees were being destroyed. Tsavo elephant population 1988 5363, 2011 12,573. Over population/die off is older than the human race, and nothing to worry about, just stop thinking it's all our fault and look back at history.

Oct 14, 2012 at 6:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy, do you know any biologists, naturalists or ecologists? Ask them whether peat bogs are sterile places and how easy they can be recreated once stripped.

Oct 14, 2012 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket


We're actually talking blanket bog here, because blanket bogs extend over large areas, surface vegetation is cut off from the underlying soil or bedrock. This means that the only source of nutrients for these systems come from rainwater. Peat and old Sphagnum moss bind cations, hydrogen being the most predominant. Blanket bogs have a surface pH of around 3.8 - 4.0, making them somewhat hostile environments, being both acidic and nutrient poor.

Below the roots of the plants, peat is sterile, unlike the ocean it acid (that's what pH of around 3.8 - 4.0 means), and that's why bones are disolved and skin and organs undergo tanning. I didn't say that there wasn't anything going on in the plants which mainly consists, in my limited experience actually living surrounded by peat bogs, of various coarse grasses, heather where it is drier and sphagnum moss where it's not. Midges seen to be the main insect life, with heather flys (Bibio Pomonae) at certain times. There are the usual stuff in acidic pools. I have seen with my own eyes, whats at the bottom of almost all the peat bogs in the Glen Artney area and it is tree stumps, preserved by the conditions at the bottom. Are you saying that there is any thing loving there that should be protected? After summer moorland fires which take out most of the surface life it takes a few years but things go back to being as they were. Nature, as I have said is pretty good at that.

Taking off the top layer digging out 90% of the peat and putting it all back again will leave things pretty much as they are now except about 15 feet lower on average. Letting nature put it back again, and continue carbon capturing.

Although if the theory that Scotland will get warmer drier weather (is that still this weeks theory) as a result of AGW then perhaps the trees will grow back. I beleive they are mainly oak,pine, yew, (try googling bog wood or bog oak). That will provide a much richer environment that blanket bog.

Another interesting thing I have seen is a gull colony on top of a blanket bog. In the 19th/early 20th century faced with a lack of space at their traditional colonies, the gulls ventured inland in search of new breeding grounds. The guano neutralises the acid and in these areas there is a much more fertile environment for grass, although the gulls tend to overwhelm everything else.

Oct 14, 2012 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy, you might know some 'facts' about bogs, but my guess is you know nothing about them as ecosystems. Even living among them, you will see only the surface; the big things; the unavoidable things. I suggest you ask the local natural history society what is really there. There is a breadth and depth of nature of which laypeople, such as you and me, have no idea.

I get the feeling you have swallowed the peat industry's propaganda hook, line and sinker.

Oct 15, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

Hook, Line and sinker like you and the CAGW myth then.

Oct 15, 2012 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

You imply that what I said was factually incorrect.

Now I have done most of this mornings chores here are a the OS map references (working from my memory so may not be the exact location, but if you have the time and the inclination you'll be able to find them.
1. Inland gull colony NN 819 140
2. Location of deep seated moorland fire which removed all the peat in the 1950s and was recovering if slowly last time I was there 40 years ago OS map ref NN 761 156
3. Bog wood can be found here NN 782 144 or here NN 802 141 or anywhere close by either.

Acidity of blanket bog look here

NB Growth of blanket bog attributed to human activity and climate change (natural)
Bog oak references

Bog body references

These I think, are examples of my posit that nature will return given the time.

Hopefully, you'll be able to give me some of your facts rather than an argument from authority in return.

Bear in mind that your experts will have an agenda themsleves, and this will include job preservation.

Have a good day.

Oct 15, 2012 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Sandy, natural history societies are often largely amateur affairs, so job preservation is not an issue.

You certainly get a gold star for Googling proficiency, but that doesn't mean you know anything about nature. The fact that you think you do is symptomatic of the attitudes of "skeptics"; you think you can do a bit of reading around the subject and learn to spout a few "facts" and that makes you experts, able to cross swords with people who have studied the issues for decades. This arrogance might even work, because the general public's level of ignorance is greater even than that of "skeptics", who can therefore appear knowledgable; the half-eyed men in the valley of the blind.

Oct 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

It seems that everything you accuse others of being/doing/failing at applies equally to you with the added frisson of your smugness which is unwarranted. Read over all your comments and you might find that they are remarkably fact free. Why attack the author if you have facts? Why be snide when, according to you, it would be so easy to disprove the arguments by a talk with the high priests of your religion who would provide them with the correct facts. Sandy started his comments with facts and no nastiness. Your contribution was nastiness but no facts.

I believed when you first started commenting that you could make an excellent contribution to BH as sometimes you are dead right- I.e. we skeptics are sometimes not skeptic and we need reminding of that on a regular basis. But especially on this thread your comments add nothing but unpleasantness. So do continue to challenge us with facts but please skip the rubbish. You lose your credibility and convince lurkers like me that everything we have come to believe about pro CAGW folks - that they resort to ad homs etc because they cannot provide us with factual arguments in rebuttal- is true. I think that just adds to bunker mentality but does not help bring us closer to the truth which is what both sides want. I would welcome being proved wrong.

Oct 15, 2012 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterConiston

I take your insults in the way they intended from an immature youth.

However, do not judge others ignorance by your own, I provided web-based information in response to your fact free comments, when claimed what I said was incorrect. You have provided nothing other than insult and opinion and are not worth dealing with in future as you appear to have no knowledge.

Telling me that I have no knowledge then stating this "natural history societies are often largely amateur affairs, so job preservation is not an issue." as a backup to your argument doesn't serve you well.

Thank you

Oct 15, 2012 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Coniston, sorry to disappoint you. I didn't realise I had a lurking fan base (joke; no need to retract anything ;-)

Actually my nicer side did supply some "facts" earlier on, but I then got carried away with my own verbosity... But I don't think I was being "nasty", just laying out some truths that might be unwelcome to recognise if they happen to apply to the reader. We can all quote "facts" we have found on the Internet back and forth all day, but many of these facts will be only half-truths and without interpretation and experience will amount to nothing useful.

I won't challenge you with "facts" because they are so treacherous; they serve whoever makes them his own. I will try to point out inconsistencies, wrongs and untruths, where I am able. Hope I can entertain you.

BTW, I accept that people would like a narrative that makes their use of peat on their gardens less of a moral headache. Peat is such a useful material for the gardener, and so difficult to substitute, that being able to say, "well its ok really, we can strip the bogs, reinstate them several meters lower down and all will be as it always was", is very comforting. Even better if they believe it too. I'm off to the garden center...

Oct 15, 2012 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitBucket

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